The will of Santa Fe voters clearly expressed nearly ten years ago will finally be realized this March, after the New Mexico Supreme Court rejected a petition by the City of Santa Fe to overrule a lower court’s decision to compel the city to implement ranked choice voting. Citizens have been waiting since they passed an amendment to the city charter calling for RCV elections in 2008, with 65 percent approving the measure.
On yesterday’s development, FairVote New Mexico Director Maria Perez, a Santa Fe resident and one of the original plaintiffs in the court battle to implement RCV, said this:
“My fellow plaintiffs and I are thrilled that Santa Fe is finally going to use ranked choice voting in March. This case has always been about doing what's best for voters. I'm also grateful that the city has put its energy into voter education. I'm confident that the city clerk and her staff’s vast experience running elections will result in a substantive campaign that will elect a mayor who reflects a true consensus of Santa Fe voters on March 6.”
Perez also said FairVote New Mexico plans to assist the Santa Fe City Council in making the ranked choice education process a success. They will be holding RCV education trainings on January 11, 12 and 13th.
It’s been a long and sometimes contentious battle. The city charter mandates that “as soon…as equipment and software for tabulation of votes and the ability to correct incorrectly marked, in-person ballots, is available at a reasonable price and at all subsequent elections, the mayor, city councilors and municipal judge shall be elected using a ranked choice voting…".
The situation was coming to a head in the spring of 2017, when it seemed both those conditions were about to be met. The secretary of state was in the process of certifying the software that includes an RCV module, and the state was paying for the software update. Perez was in contact with city officials, who told her they anticipated the city would be implementing RCV for the March 2018 elections.
In June, the council changed its position, voting to delay implementation because the council was unsure the secretary of state was going to certify the software in time. It took up the question in July, and again voted to delay implementation. Perez said, “Even though the secretary of state seemed like she was going to certify in time, the council felt that she was overstepping her jurisdiction in how she was going about it.”
The software was certified in September, yet the city made no move to reconsider the vote. That’s when Perez joined four other Santa Fe voters and filed a lawsuit with the First District Court asking for the court to mandate the city to implement RCV. The city responded by claiming the secretary of state had overstepped her bounds.
After an evidentiary hearing, Judge David Thomson ruled that the conditions of the city charter have been met, and that RCV is constitutional under New Mexico law. On Nov. 29, he issued an order mandating the city to immediately begin implementing RCV for its March 2018 elections.
The city asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to overturn Judge Thomson’s ruling, but the high court denied the petition without explanation or comment.
Despite the lawsuit, the city has been engaged in a voter education program on RCV, and that is of primary importance going forward.
“Now we can really concentrate on implementing this right,” Perez said to the Santa Fe New Mexican. “We can clear the cloud behind all of it and move forward, 100 percent, full steam ahead with a successful implementation and election.”