Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why Las Cruces Needs Ranked Choice Voting

This post also appeared at

City Council candidate Steve Calderazzo's desire to be removed from the November 3 ballot highlights a big problem with our elections. Calderazzo's stated reason for wanting to withdraw is his fear of splitting the conservative vote and seeing his ideological opposite win the seat.

This is always a problem in elections with more than two candidates, since any candidate can win an election with fewer than 50% of the votes. But democracy is established on the idea that "majority rules".

Las Cruces election law somewhat deals with this problem by requiring a runoff election if the leading vote getter does not receive at least 40% of the votes- but, 40% is not a majority, so that doesn't really solve the problem. Plus, a runoff election costs money, for both the candidates and the city. Not to mention, voters are more than ready for the election to be over and don't want to endure another 6 weeks of campaigning, which is why runoff elections almost always have lower turnout than the regular election.

Even more troubling is the current trend, made explicit by Calderazzo's withdrawal, that we are better off with fewer candidates. Voting Matters contends that the plummeting of voter turnout is due in large part to the lack of candidates. New Mexico's 2014 general election had the lowest turnout in 50 years, with only 40% of registered voters bothering to cast ballots. Albuquerque's recent municipal election had its lowest turnout ever, at 8% of registered voters. The Las Cruces municipal election in 2013 also saw only 8% of registered voters turn out.

Having fewer choices on the ballot will not bring more voters to the polls. A better solution can be found with Ranked Choice Voting, sometimes referred to as Instant Runoff Voting. Ranked Choice solves two problems: it accommodates multiple candidates and assures majority winners, without the cost of conducting a second election. And it is simple- a voter merely ranks their candidates in order of preference, 1,2,3. If no candidate gets to 50% on Election Day, the losing candidates ballots are retallied, counting the voters second choice. By process of elimination, a winner can be declared who has 50% support.

Instead of withdrawing and doing a disservice to his supporters, Steve Calderazzo could simply be asking voters who choose him to name his preferred candidate as their second choice. Who knows, he might even win the election that way. Stranger things have happened.

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