Two Las Cruces City Council candidates, dissatisfied with the winner of the last mayor’s race, have complained in these pages (June 18 Journal) about their city’s ranked-choice-voting system, adopted by the council in 2018 and used in cities around the country. They have got it all wrong.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a system where voters select more than one candidate in a multi-candidate field, and, if no one gets a majority when all the first choices are tabulated, an instant run-off process begins. The candidate in last place is eliminated and the second choices of those who voted for him (or her) are distributed among the remaining candidates. The process repeats until one candidate has passed the 50% threshold.
There are many benefits of this process. First, the winner is someone that has eventually gotten a majority, and whom most voters can live with, even if he or she was not their first choice. Campaigning itself becomes more positive because candidates may lose voters’ second or third choice if they stray from the issues and attack opponents too much.
In 2019, Mayor Ken Miyagishima eventually got 55% of the vote. Contrary to the allegations of the council candidates in their op-ed, he actually faced their favored candidate nine times, with the last a literal head-to-head of the two highest candidates who received the most support. Their candidate received 45%.
The large number of candidates, 10, in 2019 made for a cumbersome process, but there were no back-room deals or “spoiler” candidates, as suggested. The system was transparent, and candidates were encouraged to make alliances with other candidates. Isn’t that what we want from our elected officials? And RCV actually is a solution to “spoiler” candidates who split the vote in a regular election, throwing it to a less popular choice. In a RCV election their votes are redistributed, not thrown out.
To avoid frivolous candidates, Las Cruces, like Albuquerque, should require a minimum number of petition signatures to qualify for the ballot. Ten candidates for mayor is too many.
Another major benefit of RCV is that it reduces costs for hard-strapped municipalities. Albuquerque is budgeting $1.5 million for possible run-offs in this year’s election just for City Council races. That’s money that could be saved for extra police protection, free lunches for seniors or kids at community centers. The Las Cruces County Clerk estimated a regular run-off for the mayor’s election would have cost $100,000 – not something we consider “negligible” when it comes to smaller municipalities.
No matter their municipality or ZIP code, New Mexicans treasure their freedom to vote for the candidate of their choice. Ranked-choice voting has expanded that choice, and voters are responding by showing up to vote in larger numbers in ordinarily low-turnout elections. Las Cruces saw a 12% turnout increase in 2019 when using ranked-choice voting.
A Common Cause exit poll from the 2019 election showed 53% of voters liked the system and would support its use in the future. This popularity came even before knowing the results. That’s important. Faith in the electoral system should not be contingent on whether your candidate won or lost. Instead, it should be based on its accessibility, security and ability to produce a winner with 50% +1 of the vote. Ranked-choice voting measures up on all these counts.