This certainly has been an interesting year. I began as director of FairVote New Mexico in March, tasked with ensuring that ranked choice voting (RCV) was finally implemented in the city of Santa Fe for our March 2018 elections. Nearly ten years ago, the issue was passed with 65 percent of Santa Fe voters approving the measure.
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…".
My initial conversations with city council members and the city clerk indicated that just about all of them understood that those two conditions were about to be met. The secretary of state was in the process of certifying the software that includes an RCV module, and her office was paying for the software update. At that point in time, the mayor, the city clerk, and six of the eight council members told me that they anticipated that we would be implementing RCV for the March 2018 elections.
By June however, the governing body had changed its tune, voting to delay implementation because the council weren’t sure 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, this time because 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.
Once the software was certified and the city made no move to reconsider the vote, I 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, as all conditions outlined in the charter had been met.
The city’s response was that the secretary of state overstepped her bounds, and that RCV might be unconstitutional under state law. After an evidentiary hearing, Judge David Thomson ruled that the conditions 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.
Despite the will of the voters and a court order, the city appealed Judge Thomson’s order to the state Supreme Court, doubling down on the argument that RCV is not constitutional. We will keep standing up for Santa Fe voters and fair elections in response. In the meantime, the city has passed a largely sensible ordinance to implement RCV and is planning a strong voter education campaign that includes a new website on the elections.
The silver lining to the whole saga has been the incredible level of public support and civic engagement around this issue. Before this year, RCV had been a dead issue in the minds of most voters, considering nothing had been done to ensure implementation since it became law nearly a decade ago.
Through extensive community outreach and coalition building, RCV is now one of the most talked about issues in the press and in public discourse in the city. Advocates from all walks of life are fighting together to hold our elected officials accountable.
Much of the remaining legal drama surrounding RCV implementation in Santa Fe will be resolved in the first few weeks of 2018, as the city is mandated to implement despite their appeal to the Supreme Court.
In 2018, I plan to work tirelessly to make certain that voters in Santa Fe are engaged and educated about RCV. I am looking forward to a successful RCV election. Once the Santa Fe election is in the books, I’ll be focusing my efforts on getting RCV debated, passed and implemented in other cities in the state. Advocates across New Mexico are paying attention to what happens in Santa Fe, and are ready to start the process in their cities.