Ranked-choice voting is having a moment in the national spotlight. It’s hardly flattering.
New York City used ranked-choice voting — just as the city of Santa Fe does for municipal elections — for its June city primary election.
Two weeks later, there still is no official winner in the crowded Democratic primary, although Eric Adams appears to have won. Ballot tabulating has been marred by errors. That means even when a winner is certified, many voters will lack faith in the results. The process has been appalling, with ballots added into the count incorrectly and others left out. For many who are suspicious of a new way of voting, the botched process only lessens faith in election reliability.
Make no mistake: The problem isn’t ranked-choice voting — love it or loathe it. The issue is New York City’s electoral board and the lousy job it has done.
Yet the ranked-choice system is receiving the blame from many. It’s a familiar refrain here; the new way of casting ballots in 2018 came under fire from some when Alan Webber was elected mayor in the city’s first ranked-choice election.
And as the city nears its second ranked-choice election, prepare for a repeat. Actually, it’s already started.
Virgil Vigil, an outspoken foe of Webber, sent a letter to the city clerk in June alleging the system mystifies voters and discourages voter participation.
That charge might have more credence had the 2018 election not drawn such high participation — some 38 percent of voters showed up, besting the 37.6 percent who turned out to kill a controversial tax on sugary drinks. It also was the highest turnout in several mayoral elections. Webber emerged with 66 percent of the vote after four rounds of counting. He led the entire way.
What’s more, voters leaving the polls were surveyed, with some 94 percent of respondents expressing satisfaction with their experience.
Under this system, voters can rank their choices from top to bottom, choose only one candidate or rank just some of them. In 2018, five candidates were running for mayor; in 2021, only three have announced so far. Webber is facing City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler and former U.S. congressional candidate Alexis Martinez Johnson.
In his letter, Vigil wrote he is concerned some people don’t understand how the votes are counted and might be confused by the ranking process. He is correct that voter education — both about filling out ballots and how results are tabulated — is essential.
Of course, the city clerk no longer runs the municipal election. That will be the job of County Clerk Katharine Clark. The Local Election Act, which moved municipal elections from March to November, also gave county clerks the responsibility to supervise them. Clark and city officials plan to conduct voter education campaigns and also need to explain how votes are tabulated. The more people understand, the better.
If voters truly hate ranked-choice voting, they are welcome to present a ballot initiative to eliminate it. Santa Fe has the current system because voters overwhelmingly approved it back in 2008, although it took a court decision to force the city to implement it a decade later.
Despite the mess in New York City, Santa Fe has shown the ranked-choice system can work. In 2021, election officials must emphasize comprehensive voter education and outreach. That way, Santa Fe wins again.