Voting Defines a Democratic Society

Posted by Author Maria Perez, Craig O'hare on October 18, 2017

Several people have announced their candidacy for mayor of Santa Fe, suggesting that someone might win the election with as little as 20 percent or 30 percent of the vote. Taking into account that about 30 percent of registered voters turn out to vote in a mayoral election, that is likely fewer than 5,000 total votes.

Nine years ago, Santa Fe voters overwhelmingly approved changes to the city charter that included a ranked-choice voting election process. Ranked-choice voting, sometimes referred to as “instant runoff voting,” guarantees that a candidate wins with at least a majority (greater than 50 percent) of the vote.

Ranked-choice voting is as easy as 1-2-3. Voters have the freedom to rank candidates (first preference, second preference, etc.) rather than just vote for one. If a candidate has a majority of the vote after tallying the first choices, that candidate wins, just like any other election. If not, the last-place candidate loses, and their ballots go to each voter’s next preference choice. The process continues until one candidate obtains greater than 50 percent of the vote.

Unlike top-two runoff elections, a costly second election is unnecessary. Earlier this year, the City Council twice voted to ignore the voters’ wishes by rejecting ranked-choice voting for the upcoming March 2018 city elections, arguing, inaccurately, that certification of the new voting equipment would not be completed in time for the election. The city also wrongly suggested that it would be too difficult to implement ranked-choice voting in time for the election next spring.

Several cities, including ones much larger than Santa Fe, have successfully implemented ranked-choice voting in less time. In late September, with a unanimous recommendation from the New Mexico Voting System Certification Commission, the secretary of state certified new state-of-the-art voting software that will be installed on all voting machines, including those to be used by city voters, next March. The software upgrade includes improvements to increase access for visually impaired voters, better tabulation and reporting functions, and increased security for our voting systems. Most importantly for Santa Fe: The new software contains the ability to run ranked-choice voting elections.

With about five months left until election day, the city has a legal and moral obligation to ensure that ranked-choice voting is used in the next municipal election. There remains no justification for the city to ignore the will of the people by denying citizens their right to vote with ranked-choice voting.

Our next mayor, with increased powers and responsibilities, as well as a generous salary that taxpayers will be bankrolling, must earn a mandate and represent the majority of Santa Feans. Ranked-choice voting guarantees that our next mayor will have that mandate.

Given that the city already has decided not to comply with ranked-choice voting, and after the state’s Supreme Court decided not to rule on the case, we have had to bring our lawsuit to District Court to require the city to honor the decision voters made nine years ago to utilize ranked-choice voting for its elections.

We believe the court will agree with our petition. Even better, however, the city could choose to stop fighting the lawsuit and, instead, comply with the law and begin taking steps to prepare for a ranked-choice voting election next year. We all can come together for a better, more accountable, democracy in Santa Fe.

Maria Perez and Craig O’Hare are longtime Santa Fe residents who are concerned for the future of our democracy. Perez is the director of FairVote New Mexico and O’Hare is a volunteer with Retake Our Democracy.

This op-ed first appeared in the Santa Fe New Mexican on Oct. 7, 2017

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