Sunday, November 29, 2015

Yes, your vote matters; and it counts. too

Lessons from Las Cruces

The November Municipal Election results have to make even the most cynical people question their pessimism. Not only were two of the council races extremely close, but a recount of the contests proved that our election system works.

Your Vote Matters

Two of the city's council districts were decided by less than 1% of the votes. Kasandra Gandara won by 18 votes in district 1, while Jack Eakman won his election by a mere 11 votes in district 4.

Overall, about 19% of the registered voters came to cast ballots. Meaning, 81% of Las Crucens did not bother voting.

So, if you think your vote doesn't matter, think again- you and ten friends could have changed (or confirmed) the outcome.

Your Vote Counts

Because of the closeness of the margin, the two losing candidates decided to ask for a recount. They paid the costs to make sure the results were correct, because, you never know, the machines could have malfunctioned or worse.

But it turns out the vote tallies remained unchanged.

Nearly the same thing happened when last year's Commissioner of Public Lands election had a so called "automatic" recount because the margin of victory was within 1/2%, and the change in vote counts was negligible.

So, if you think elections are rigged, think again, because with New Mexico's paper ballot system, all elections are subject to the scrutiny of audits and recounts.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Top Two Primary Elections

Voting Matters has great respect for Bob Perls from his time in the legislature and for his dedication to improving the function of our government and our elections. And I greatly appreciate his efforts to increase voter participation in New Mexico. That said, I highly doubt his suggestion of an open primary top two system will lead to the desired results.

See the commentary at NMPolitics here:

We contend that the main reason for low voter participation is low candidate participation. Two candidates, no matter how different, cannot begin to represent the diversity of New Mexicans.

While the top two system allows for more participation by opening up the primary to more voters, it doesn't actually encourage more participation since at the general election there are still only two candidates on the ballot. Now if Mr. Perls were talking about a top four primary, that would be different.

Let's look more closely at Nebraska's 2014 legislative elections. While 47% turnout is admittedly better than New Mexico's 40%, it still shows that more than half of all Nebraskans did not vote in the general election. And, frankly, their open primary only attracted 27% of their potential voters- hardly something to shout about.

Why? Because of a lack of candidates. 14 of Nebraska's 25 legislative districts had only one or two candidates- all guaranteed to "win" the top two primary and go on to November. And in 21 of 25 districts, the same person who got the most votes in May won the general. If these statistics don't scream "why bother?" to voters, I don't know what does.

While it is hard to argue with the fact that since the primary election is paid for by the state, all citizens should be able to cast ballots, there are other reforms that would do a better job at increasing turnout.

First, get rid of the gerrymandered single seat districts that guarantee "safe seats" for one party or the other, and create an independent redistricting commission.

Second, reduce the number of signatures needed for minor party and independent candidates to get on the ballot. New Mexico's 3% requirement for independent candidates is among the highest in the nation, and prevented even an incumbent member of the Public Education Commission from running for reelection in 2014.

Finally, create a system of universal voter registration, so that voters are not disenfranchised because they weren't aware the registration deadlines and requirements.

Mr. Perls goals are laudable, but the fact remains that having only two candidates on the general election ballot will not increase voter participation.

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.