Backers of ranked-choice voting for Santa Fe conceived the idea more than a decade ago. They say the ranking mechanism encourages fairer elections, and with it, Santa Fe officeholders would be elected with majority support. Skeptics of ranked-choice voting counter that it might not guarantee a majority to the winning candidate and that it can confuse voters.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Ranked-choice allows voters to number candidates in order of preference rather than simply picking one. If no candidate receives a majority — 50 percent plus one — of the first-place votes, the last-place candidate is eliminated. Voters who ranked the eliminated candidate first then have their second-place votes redistributed. The ballots are counted again. This process continues until one candidate “receives a majority of the votes,” according to the city charter. Mathematicians say it’s still possible that no candidate will receive a majority after second-place votes are redistributed.
ROAD TO RANKED-CHOICE VOTING
March 4, 2008: City voters approve a charter amendment for ranked-choice voting, with 5,659 in favor and 3,044 against. The amendment says it will end the format of a plurality deciding elections for mayor, City Council members and municipal judge. The amendment allows for ranked-choice voting to begin as soon as the 2010 election.
2010 to early 2017: No ranked-choice voting system is ready to be submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office for certification, so city elections continue to be decided by a plurality.
June and July 2017: The City Council twice votes to delay implementation of ranked-choice voting until after the March 2018 election. The ranked-choice voting module by the software provider has not been certified.
Aug. 30, 2017: Five city residents — Maria Perez, Craig O’Hare, Ellen Ackerman, Sage Bird and Anne Noss — file an emergency petition to the state Supreme Court, asking justices to order the city to implement ranked-choice voting for March.
Sept. 1, 2017: The 2018 election cycle officially begins as candidates for mayor and City Council seats pick up nominating petitions.
Sept. 21, 2017: A panel of three Supreme Court justices denies the petition.
Sept. 27, 2017: The secretary of state certifies an upgraded software election system for use in all elections statewide in 2018. It includes a ranked-choice voting module.
Sept. 29, 2017: The same group of five petitions the state District Court in Santa Fe to order the city to implement ranked-choice voting.
Wednesday: District Judge David Thomson orders the city to use ranked choice voting in the March election, saying the necessary software is available. Mayor Javier Gonzales, who is not seeking re-election, says he will ask the City Council to appropriate $300,000 for voter education on the new election system.
Monday, Dec. 4: The City Council will meet “to set a course forward” on election policy.
Dec. 13: The city clerk is to formally list the candidates who will appear on the ballot.
Jan. 30: Absentee voting begins.
Feb. 14: Early voting begins.
March 6: Election Day.
Will a candidate get a majority? Not necessarily. Advocates of ranked-choice voting say the system produces a winner who can claim majority support. But Assistant City Attorney Zach Shandler argued to Thomson that if enough voters decline to select a second or third choice, no one candidate might reach the charter-mandated 50 percent threshold.
How many to rank? The ranked-choice module certified for use in the 2018 city election allows a voter to rank up to 10 candidates. City Council members have not decided how many candidates a voter may or must rank. In certain jurisdictions, such as San Francisco and Minneapolis, voters may rank only up to three candidates.
Is ranked-choice voting constitutional in New Mexico? Thomson said he interpreted ranked-choice elections as a type of runoff, which cities are permitted to use under the state constitution.
What if I fill out my ballot incorrectly? A representative of the state’s election software provider testified that the voting machines will notify voters if they have made a mistake, such as ranking two candidates as their first preference. Voters would be permitted to correct their ballot.
OTHER PLACES WITH RANKED-CHOICE:
Berkeley, Calif.; Oakland, Calif.; San Francisco; Cambridge, Mass.; Minneapolis; St. Paul, Minn.; and Portland, Maine. The state of Maine has approved ranked-choice voting, but the Maine Supreme Court said this would violate the state constitution, which calls for elections to be decided by a plurality. Internationally, some elections in Australia, India, Ireland, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea use a form of ranked-choice voting.
Some U.S. jurisdictions implemented ranked-choice voting but then dropped it for a more traditional system. These include Aspen, Colo.; Ann Arbor, Mich.; Burlington, Vt.; and Pierce County, Wash.