Now that the city has decided to move municipal elections from October to November to comply with the new state law that aims at consolidating local elections, it is time for the city to consider adopting ranked-choice voting (RCV) in order to avoid costly and low-turnout runoff elections.
Ranked-choice voting is a system that gets rid of the need to hold a separate runoff election. It has been adopted by Santa Fe and Las Cruces and is used in a dozen cities across the nation. RCV allows voters to rank the candidates in races with multiple candidates from favorite to least favorite. On election night, everybody’s first-choice votes are counted to determine who voters like the best. If one candidate receives a majority of the votes, they win. If no candidate receives a majority, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated. If your favorite candidate is eliminated, your vote is instantly counted for your second choice. This repeats until one candidate reaches a majority and wins. The system works as an instant runoff election, ensuring a majority winner in one, higher-turnout election, thus eliminating the need for a separate runoff.
In RCV elections, candidates often need second- and third-choice votes to win. This incentivizes them to reach out to a much broader base, and talk to all constituents, even those whose first-choice candidate is someone else, to ask for their second- and third-choice votes. As a voter, you are not likely to give your second- or third-choice vote to a candidate who engages in negative personal attacks against your favorite candidate. This encourages candidates to refrain from negative campaigning and focus on their vision and policy ideas.
Albuquerque has another strong incentive to move away from separate runoff elections and instead adopt RCV. As per the newly passed “50-Year Election Law Tune-Up” bill, from now on the state will cover the cost of local elections, but if a city decides to hold a separate runoff, that second election’s cost will be the responsibility of the city. In other words, if Albuquerque keeps its current separate runoff system, it will have to spend somewhere around $300,000 on it. That’s money that could certainly be used for projects or programs that actually benefit the residents of the city.
Separate runoff elections historically see a drop in voter turnout, while RCV elections have seen an increase. Santa Fe’s first RCV election last year saw a 10 percent increase in voter turnout compared to the previous mayoral election in 2014. In the future, we can be sure that if Albuquerque continues with its separate runoff system, voter turnout for the runoff will be significantly lower, especially since the change in election dates puts the runoff in December, right in the middle of the holiday season.
In the name of cost effectiveness, increased voter engagement and majority rule, Albuquerque should also make this common-sense change to ranked-choice voting!