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Las Cruces preps for first ranked-choice election

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Half a dozen candidates are running for mayor of Las Cruces as the city prepares to hold its first ranked-choice election this fall.

In addition to Mayor Ken Miyagishima, who is seeking a fourth term, five challengers are expected to file as mayoral candidates Tuesday. They have a range of experience ranging from current city council member Gregory Z. Smith, who has been in office since 2012, to 20-year-old real estate agent Jorge Sanchez. Other candidates who have announced they’re running include former city councilor Jesusita Dolores; Gina Ortega, a small-business owner who ran for mayor in 2015; and Mike Tellez, a restaurateur and past Republican candidate for the state Legislature.

If no one garners 51% of the vote, the new ranked-choice ballot will decide the winner. “It’s like an instant runoff,” said Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda Lopez Askin.

With ranked choice, voters list their preference for candidates in order from their top pick to their least favorite. The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who chose that candidate would get their second choice counted. The process is repeated until one candidate reaches a majority and wins.

Ranked-choice voting will apply only to the Nov. 3 Las Cruces municipal election, when voters in New Mexico’s second-largest city cast ballots for mayor, three city council seats and a presiding municipal judge.

The Las Cruces City Council unanimously approved ranked-choice voting last year, becoming only the second city in New Mexico after Santa Fe to do so.

“If you look at ranked-choice voting, what they always put in front and foremost is the cost savings of a runoff,” Lopez Askin said. She estimates a runoff election could cost as much as $100,000.

“As an additional incentive, think about how dismal turnout is for runoffs,” Lopez Askin said.

“It makes it so much easier if your runoff is on the same ballot as your first round,” said Maria Perez, with Common Cause New Mexico, a nonpartisan organization promoting democratic participation. Perez lives in Santa Fe, the first New Mexican city to hold a ranked-choice election. She was in Las Cruces in June for one of several workshops organized by Doña Ana County elections officials. More than 50 candidates and campaign workers attended, according to Perez.

“Everybody is just really excited and really stepping up to getting this done right,” she said.

Las Cruces also set up a website at explaining the process and the city will include a flier in utility bills.