Friday, August 23, 2013

Santa Fe fails again on Ranked Choice Voting

The third election cycle since Santa Fe voters overwhelmingly approved switching to Ranked Choice Voting begins in September, when city clerk Yolanda Vigil makes candidate nominating petitions available. Once again, the will of the voters is being trumped by uncooperative administrators.

And, for a change, we are not the only ones saying so. Check out these links to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press, and KRQE TV news stories, and the editorial below which was published in the Journal Santa Fe.

Democracy 101 – do what the voters say on candidates
By Journal Staff

It’s been six years since voters approved an important change in Santa Fe’s city election rules, but nobody at City Hall appears interested in following their direction.

As a result, the city’s next mayor has every chance of being elected by a small percentage of the electorate. In a crowded field – there are six declared candidates already and maybe more on the way – it wouldn’t be a surprise if as little as 20-25 percent of the vote is enough for victory.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Back in 2008, a hefty majority of Santa Fe city voters approved the use of ranked-choice voting, sometimes called “instant runoff” voting – after the City Council itself (not some outside special interest group) put changing the city charter on the ballot.

The theory of instant-runoff voting is that by casting ballots for several candidates in order of preference, voters can send a clearer message about who should win. As the votes are tallied, candidates with the least votes lose, with their votes then distributed among the other candidates according to voter-expressed preference. As the tally continues, one candidate eventually emerges with a majority and is declared the winner.

The idea is that it’s better to have a majority’s first or second choice win the election rather than someone with support from a smaller piece of the electorate.

That’s what the council presented to voters in 2008, and that’s what voters said they wanted. But the city clerk says she can’t implement such a system without new voting machines, and there’s enough red tape, not to mention expense, surrounding that process to have made it easy for city officials to have continued to let the change slide.

Mayor David Coss heaped additional insult on Santa Fe voters last week when he said he didn’t think they knew what they were doing when they approved the switch to instant runoff voting. If the vote had been a close one, the mayor might conceivably have a point, but it wasn’t close – fully 65 percent of voters said they wanted the change.

Coss went on to say that the city had better things to spend its money on than complying with the voter mandate.

There might not be much support for ranked-voting among candidates who are running in the March municipal elections, either; they may assess their chances of winning with a small fraction of the popular vote as significantly better than having to gain approval of more than 50 percent of voters in order to win.

Machines capable of tallying votes by ranked preference already exist. The city would have to pay for the new machines, it’s true. But in our view, it makes more sense to spend money on something 65 percent of the city electorate says it wants than, say, to blow $100,000 on an office makeover for the benefit of just three city Arts Commission employees – an action the City Council recently approved.

The City Council has also seen fit to put $5 million into other new office space in the Railyard and didn’t seem bothered when it found out that it had chosen to rehire a security guard firm that was underbid by more than $500,000 by a competitor.

It’s time the city clerk – and the City Council – heeded the voice of voters and made
the necessary changes in city election procedures. Or the council should put the matter back before voters again and make a valid case for abandoning ranked-choice voting.

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