Reformers earned a big win yesterday.
The ruling by Santa Fe District Court Judge David Thompson that Santa Fe must implement ranked choice voting (RCV) is the result of a lot of hard work and community activism by local supporters. FairVote’s Maria Perez, a Santa Fe resident who started on the campaign last March, was tireless and determined to see her local government finally comply with the will of its voters, who overwhelmingly approved of RCV almost ten years ago.
The judge ordered the new voting system to be in place for its March 6, 2018 elections, now that the software for voting machines are certified and ready to go. An open seat race for mayor has drawn five candidates, and at least two city council races have more than two candidates. More than half of the city’s last nine elections for mayor have been won with less than half the vote.
“This decision by district court judge to order Santa Fe to implement ranked choice in March is not only a win for the voters of Santa Fe and the rule of law, but also for democracy in New Mexico, Perez said. “The people of Santa Fe have patiently waited for almost a decade for this moment, and we look forward to working with city officials to ensure implementation of ranked choice voting goes as smoothly as possible.
“Now is the time to get to work, she added. “The 2018 elections will feature strong candidates vying for an open seat for the office of mayor. Based on the experiences of other cities with ranked choice voting earlier this year, it will likely be a positive and engaging campaign that will produce a mayor with majority support from Santa Feans.”
Teresa Leger de Fernandez, the attorney representing the petitioners, proficiently guided the winning legal fight. She’s the founder of Leger Law & Strategy, a social justice firm focused on impact litigation, financing, economic development and the public interest.
In March of 2008, Santa Fe voters approved a charter amendment to elect their municipal officers with RCV with 65 percent voting in favor. The amendment stated that RCV would be implemented as early as “March 2010, or as soon thereafter” as voting equipment is “available at a reasonable price.” This year, such equipment became available for free, as it the Secretary of State has certified it for use in all New Mexico elections beginning in 2018.
Nonetheless, the Santa Fe City Council voted on June 28, 2017 and again on July 27, 2017 not to implement ranked choice voting until 2020, in spite of the clear language in the city’s charter. On Sept. 29, a group of Santa Fe citizens filed a petition in New Mexico district court to compel the city to comply with its charter.
In a recent op-ed experienced RCV administrator Caleb Kleppner noted Santa Fe “will have the easiest path to run a successful first use of ranked-choice voting in history.”
In reaction to the ruling, Santa Fe mayor Javier Gonzales tweeted the following: “Ranked Choice Voting’s time has come, and I'm pleased Judge Thompson agrees. I’ve reserved comment while judicial process played out, but I remain eager to pursue an election that reflects the will of the people…. I know the Secretary of State is ready to help us execute an election where voters rank their choice and assure our next mayor has the support of the majority of voters.”
“We are thrilled at today’s ruling and happy for the voters of Santa Fe,” said FairVote Executive Director Rob Richie. “The city will be using state-of-the-art voting equipment with a ‘turnkey’ solution to running these elections and we are confident Santa Fe will have the same kind of positive in electing its new mayor next March as Minneapolis did a couple of weeks ago. It is no surprise that the movement for better elections through ranked choice voting has greater momentum than ever.”
Santa Fe now joins 11 cities using ranked choice voting to elect city officers. Surveys of likely voters in these cities have found that a majority of those surveyed support its continued use in their city election. In 2017, four cities held ranked choice voting elections, and all saw their positive and competitive campaigns lead to record surges in voter turnout.
For legal filings in the case and additional background, see this resource library.