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Ranked-choice voting strengthens system

This month, Albuquerque has the opportunity to join the growing list of New Mexico cities already working to make our democracy more inclusive, cost-effective and accessible by using ranked-choice voting in elections.

Albuquerque’s City Council is currently considering adopting an ordinance to implement ranked-choice voting, which is also known as an “instant runoff” voting system. Ranked-choice voting (RCV) has already made a difference in increasing both voter participation and engagement in Santa Fe’s elections, and Las Cruces is currently implementing an RCV program, making Albuquerque the third city in the state to take up the reform. However, instead of paving the way for a better democracy for New Mexicans, Albuquerque has remained stagnated as this initiative gains momentum in cities nationwide.

As a lifelong Burqueña, I am eager to see voting and elections made easier and more engaging for our communities, especially when New Mexicans often feel left out of important decisions that impact their daily lives.

(On May 28) the Albuquerque Journal published an opinion piece shooting down ranked-choice voting. As an advocate for civic engagement I would like to address some of the arguments mentioned in the editorial. And to do that I have one question: How is the current system working for you?

In 2017, just under 97,000 people voted in the mayoral election. But did you know that Albuquerque has more than 350,000 registered voters? That 2017 election was the second-highest vote total in a mayoral election since 2001, but 83% did not make it to the polls. The vast majority of our voters had no say in whom we elected to lead our city.

There is no question runoff elections, especially here in Albuquerque, consistently suffer from extremely low voter turnout. When voters already have difficulty making their way to the polls just once, it’s unrealistic to expect an equal number of people to turn out twice. This is especially problematic now with our election date moving to November, which means our runoff elections will occur during the busy December holiday season. In contrast, recent studies show RCV increases voter turnout. A study published by The Economist in June 2018 definitively showed that of 79 elections held in 26 American cities, those cities with RCV programs saw a 10% increase in voter turnout compared with those cities with non-RCV primary and runoff elections.

Additionally, RCV does not change the democratic principle of “one person, one vote;” and this has been supported by numerous court opinions, including recent legal challenges in Santa Fe, San Francisco, and Maine. When Santa Fe’s Charter Review Commission discussed adopting RCV for its city elections back in 2007, Santa Fe’s former City Attorney Frank Katz wrote, “There is no basis to conclude that a runoff that is achieved through expressing one’s second (or third) choice at the time of the initial election would be treated differently from allowing that second (or third) choice to be made some weeks later as a separate election.” Under RCV, we are changing how to better utilize our time during elections and creating an election system that strengthens every person’s vote.

Furthermore, while ranked-choice voting isn’t a panacea, it can help transform the way our elections are working, or not working, for the people. Structural reforms that can make a difference should not simply be dismissed or delayed, but swiftly implemented to better our democracy. As citizens of this amazing city, we must ask our elected officials to make this important policy reform to ensure our democracy works and is accessible to all of us.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan grass-roots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest and accountable government that serves the public interest; promotes equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empowers all people to make their voices heard as equals in the political process.

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