Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Ranked Choice Voting in Santa Fe

On Monday, Santa Fe city clerk Yolanda Vigil conducted a demonstration of whether it would be possible to conduct a Ranked Choice Voting runoff using existing voting machines and software. Ranked Choice was adopted by city voters in March 2008, with the condition that it could be done using machines, at a reasonable cost. Voting machines used in New Mexico are not capable of taking a ballot image, which would make runoff tabulation simple. Machines that are capable of doing so are not certified for use here, so, tallying a runoff will require a good deal of hand sorting of ballots and then feeding some ballots through the machines a second or third time.

The reason for the demonstration was to determine whether this method of vote tallying would be consistent with the charter and other laws, and whether it would be possible to conduct the runoff in a timely and efficient manner. The city is expected to have a decision by November 10, the date that the March municipal election is officially 'proclaimed'.

Thanks also go out to Automated Election Services for providing the ballots and memory cartridges and to Santa Fe county for providing machines and staff for the demonstration. After some preliminary discussions about voter education, how the runoff fits in with other election duties like the canvass, and how to deal with other issues such as overvotes and undervotes, the demonstration began.

Fifty ballots were marked for the demonstration, including three separate races with four candidates each. The ballots were then fed into the voting machine (ES&S model M100). This part of the process represents Election Day. “Election Day” results showed that a runoff would be required for the Mayor's race between Elvis Presslee(17), John Knee Cash (16), Alher Acain (10), and Sue B Honey (6), since none of those candidates received a majority. The next step was to remove the ballots from the ballot box and sort them into four piles based on first choice selections marked on the ballot (noted above in parentheses).

At this point, a new cartridge was placed in the voting machine, and ballots listing Sue B Honey were fed into the machine. The second choice votes were added to the previous totals, and still no candidate had over 50% of the vote total. Those ballots were then set aside, and the ballots listing Alher Acain as first choice were fed into the machine, adding those second choices.

In addition, any ballots listing Alher Acain and Sue B Honey as the first two choices were tallied counting the third choice votes on those ballots, by inserting a new memory cartridge and feeding those ballots through the machine. Now the tally could be finalized, and Elvis Presslee won with 28 votes compared with 21 for John Knee Cash. (one ballot was spoiled because the voter made two selections for first choice).

The conclusion: it is possible to conduct a runoff using Ranked Choice Voting as adopted by the city. There are some logistical issues that need to be resolved. There is nothing to prevent the city from implementing Ranked Choice that can't be resolved through administrative rules or an ordinance.

We at Voting Matters certainly hope that Santa Fe will implement Ranked Choice Voting for the March 2010 election, which appears very likely to have more than two candidates in at least two of the five races on the ballot.

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