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Voters in survey approve of ranked-choice system

SANTA FE, N.M. — The results of an election day survey by FairVote New Mexico found that Santa Fe voters strongly favored the new ranked-choice voting system, FairVote says.

The organization led the successful effort to petition a Santa Fe District Court judge to order the Santa Fe City Council to implement ranked-choice voting in the March 6 municipal election.

Maria Perez

Maria Perez

FairVote New Mexico Director Maria Perez told the Journal Thursday that 27 volunteers covered 10 voting centers on election day and selected a random sample of voters to take part in the poll.

Under the advice from University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson, Perez said volunteers approached every other voter leaving a polling center in District 3, where voter turnout is typically the lowest, and approached every fourth voter in District 1, where voter turnout is the highest.

According to a release from FairVote, about 1,300 of the more than 20,600 voters took the survey on March 6, when Alan Webber beat four other candidates in the mayor’s race and four city councilors were elected.

More than 55 percent of respondents said they liked using the ranked-choice ballot, compared to 24 percent who said they didn’t like it. More than 67 percent said the ballot was “not at all confusing” while 6 percent found it “very confusing.”

More than 70 percent said they were “very confident” that their vote was counted as intended, and more than 94 percent said they were satisfied with their voting experience. Just over 70 percent of respondents said they thought ranked-choice voting should be used in future city elections.

“I think the responses we got from voters were positive and encouraging overall,” Perez said. “The voters pretty much overwhelmingly felt their vote was going to count as intended. That was a really encouraging piece of data in terms of going forward with this.”

Sixty-one percent of respondents said that they ranked all five mayoral candidates, 80 percent ranked at least three candidates and 88 percent reported that they ranked at least two. Only 11.15 percent of those surveyed said they voted for only one candidate.

In ranked-choice, which applies in races with more than two candidates, voters rank their choices from first to last, choose just a first choice or rank just some of the candidates. If no candidate has more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes after the first round of counting, the candidate receiving the fewest votes is eliminated. The second-choice votes on those ballots is distributed to the remaining candidates.

The process is repeated round by round until someone has a majority of votes counted. In later rounds, if the second choice on ballots for candidates being eliminated has already been knocked out, the third choice is counted, and so on.

It took four rounds to put entrepreneur Webber over the top in the Santa Fe mayor’s race. He easily bested Ron Truillo, who was ending his service on the City Council, in the final round.

Perez said the results of the survey speak volumes about how well city government, through a major public education campaign, and community groups worked to educate citizens on ranked-choice voting. Judge David Thomson in late November ruled the city had to use ranked-choice voting, giving everyone just a little over two months to prepare for the 2018 election.

Perez also said city employees did a good job of helping voters on election day.

“Kudos to everyone who worked on this,” Perez said. “It will only get better.”