This March, Santa Fe will choose a new mayor in the wake of a charter change that has given that mayor unprecedented powers — and salary. Unlike in most of the city’s past 10 elections, the new mayor will win a majority of the vote in the final tally if the city adopts ranked-choice voting. Based on my experience, Santa Fe has all the tools and plenty of time to run a high quality ranked-choice voting election.
New Mexico’s courts are reviewing the merits of a challenge brought by Santa Fe voters who have disputed the city’s decision to ignore its charter. A ruling could come as soon as this week (“More questions on ranked-choice voting,” Nov. 22).
I was asked to file an affidavit in the case. Since 2005, I have had a direct role in implementing ranked-choice voting in five cities, including Portland, Maine, in its 2011 and 2015 mayoral elections. As of 2016, Portland had approximately 57,500 registered voters, and Santa Fe had approximately 53,000 registered voters.
Despite city of Santa Fe staff resistance to implementing ranked-choice voting, its work will change little, especially because Santa Fe’s system comes fully ready to run ranked-choice voting, according to the specifics of an ordinance already in the city’s possession and ready to be adopted by the City Council.
Portland’s election officials started preparing to implement three months before for its Nov. 8, 2011, mayoral election. Unlike Santa Fe, Portland had to develop a ballot design and determine how voters could cast ballots in the precinct with one system, then have a different process for identifying the ranked-choice voting winner.
The mayoral election had 15 candidates, far more than the five in Santa Fe. Error rates in all elections tend to correlate with the number of candidates, but 99.83 percent of all Portland ballots counted in the first round. The Portland Press Herald wrote in an editorial that: “Ranked-choice voting, we were warned, would be confusing, and people would stay away from the polls or fill out their ballots incorrectly. In fact, Portland had a better than 40 percent turnout, sky-high for an off-year municipal election. … Few voters reported any problems figuring out how to mark their ballots despite the huge field.”
This was primarily due to Portland having a sensible ballot design with clear instructions. That same ballot design comes with the voting equipment used in Santa Fe. Poll workers simply will need to tell voters to “rank the candidates in your order of choice.”
Similarly, voter education campaigns do not need to be elaborate or expensive. They largely can consist of developing posters and fliers showing voters how to complete a ranked-choice voting ballot.
I understand that Santa Fe will have ample opportunities to accept free assistance. Minneapolis has worked with FairVote Minnesota over the last three successful ranked-choice voting elections, including one this month where voter turnout surged far beyond expectation; FairVote New Mexico is ready to provide similar help in Santa Fe.
Run by retired election officials with extensive ranked-choice voting experience, the Ranked Choice Voting Resource Center has offered its services. The Center for Civic Design recently published a report on “Best practices for ranked choice voting ballots and other materials.”
In fact, based on my experience, it is clear that Santa Fe not only has plenty of time to implement ranked choice voting, but it will have the easiest path to run a successful first use of ranked-choice voting in history.
Caleb Kleppner is co-owner of MK Election Services LLC, which administers private elections and assists in some public elections around the nation. He lives in New Haven, Conn.