Voices & Choices

Carmen Lopez-Wilson on Santa Fe's first ranked choice voting election

Carmen Lopez-Wilson on Santa Fe's first ranked choice voting election

In our latest "Voice and Choices" podcast, I spoke with Carmen Lopez-Wilson, the Good Government Reforms Policy Officer at the Santa Fe-based Thornburg Foundation, about the city's first use of ranked choice voting. The conversation ranged from city officials' efforts to educate the public on the new system, voters reaction to it, and how the candidates adapted to a new style of campaigning. Below is an excerpt from that interview, which has been edited for clarity.

Rich Robinson: Tell us a little bit about the candidate interaction with each other. Did you go to any of the forums?

Carmen Lopez-Wilson: I did. I went to three of them. There are three chambers in Santa Fe: the Chamber of Commerce, the Hispano Chamber of Commerce and the Green Chamber. They worked together to host a mayoral forum in which they kicked off the forum by doing a one sentence description of ranked choice voting. Later in the forum they asked all of the candidates who their second choice would be on their ballot. It was clearly an unexpected question to the candidates because they kind of struggled to strategize about who they should say they were going to rank second.

Kudos to the brave journalist or whoever asked that question.

Yes, it was great. Most of the candidates used that opportunity to connect with voters that might not otherwise be inclined to rank them in first place, which was smart and interesting to watch. I think it worked because according to the exit poll that FairVote conducted, most of the voters ranked candidates in first, second, third, fourth, and fifth.

According to those exit poll results, voters said that candidates asked them for a second place ranking when voters didn’t agree to vote for for the candidate.

So it seems that an RCV strategy filtered through the candidates’ campaign, at least according to voters.

Was it nice to see a lack of negative campaigning negative ads from the candidates?

It was, it was really great. It allowed the candidates to go into more depth on policy issues. There was much more airtime in this election spent on policy issues and issues important to voters. And that's exactly what you want in an election. And you know there was really just no nasty campaigning. It was pretty exciting.

Yeah and that's the kind of thing that ranked choice voting brings to an election, candidates talking about issues and not cutting each other down.

It is. Because you get much clearer answers to the policy concerns that people express and to the long list of issues that voters want their elected representatives to work on. In each of these forums voters would approach these candidates with a long list of questions which candidates genuinely spent time digging into instead of giving a one sentence response and then using the question as an opportunity to get a dig in at another candidate. So I think the resulting policy conversation was meaningful and helpful and I moved the whole candidate pool.

Listen to the podcast here.


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