Santa Fe and Las Cruces use ranked choice voting for municipal offices. FairVote New Mexico, a past project of FairVote, supported Santa Fe's first ranked choice voting election in 2018.
Ranked choice voting (RCV) makes democracy more fair and functional. It works in a variety of contexts. It is a simple change that can have a big impact.
With ranked choice voting, voters can rank as many candidates as they want in order of choice. Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices. RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters.
In Santa Fe, voters approved RCV in 2008 and it was implemented in 2018 after an order by a NM District Judge. See "Santa Fe Lawsuit Resources" for additional details on the route to implementation.
Las Cruces quickly followed suit, adopting RCV by a unanimous City Council vote in 2018. Las Cruces voters first used RCV in 2019.
New Mexico voters support using ranked choice voting for their elections for several reasons:
Too often, candidates win elections despite being opposed by most voters. With RCV, you get winners who earn a majority of the vote. This means the winner is more broadly representative.
With RCV, you don’t need to vote twice since there is no primary or runoff election. Instead, you get a winner in a single high turnout election. This saves money and reduces campaign finance needs.
In RCV elections, candidates will ask for your first choice support and also your backup choices. This encourages candidates to reach beyond their traditional base of supporters. Candidates who have run and won in RCV elections have been successful because of coalition building and effective relationship building with all voters.
RCV makes elections more fair and representative because you always get to vote your favorite first. This allows you to vote for your true preference based on your hopes and values, instead of the fear of “splitting the vote” among candidates you like from the same community.
On March 6, 2018, the City of Santa Fe held its first mayoral and city council elections with ranked choice voting. The election was successful, with record turnout for a mayoral election in Santa Fe, following a positive campaign.
The mayoral election was an open seat contest, and the first mayoral election since the office was converted to a full time position and given expanded authority. It attracted five strong candidates. At the end of the instant runoff, Alan Webber was elected mayor with 66.2% of the final round vote. This table shows the round-by-round vote totals for each candidate:
Two of the four city council districts had three candidates as well. District 2 was won by Carol Romero-Wirth in the first round with 52.9% of the vote and District 4 was won by JoAnne Vigil Coppler in the second round with 56.5% of the final round vote. The official city results may be viewed online here.
The city implemented RCV in three months after a court order required implementation on November 29th, 2017. The city used a new voting system created by Dominion, who also provides the voting equipment used for RCV elections in the California Bay Area. As summarized in our blog post from March 8th, there were very few errors and very few "exhausted" ballots. Thanks to a clear, well-designed ballot and a strong voter education campaign led by FairVote New Mexico's Maria Perez, voters ranked candidates without difficulty, confident that their vote would count.
Exit polling of a large, representative group of voters found that voters overwhelmingly understood and liked the new system. As the report below summarizes, voters ranked candidates and left their polling places satisfied with their voting experience and agreeing that RCV should continue to be used in Santa Fe elections to come.
Voters in survey approve of ranked-choice system, Albuquerque Journal
Webber elected Santa Fe mayor in first ranked-choice voting, Albuquerque Journal
Santa Fe Picks Publishing Entrepreneur as Next Mayor, U.S. News & World Report
Webber sees 'future of unlimited potential' Santa Fe New Mexican
The key to Webber’s win: Noble voters Santa Fe New Mexican
After a unanimous vote by the Las Cruces City Council in 2018, voters participated in their first ranked choice voting (RCV) election in November 2019.
Las Cruces is the second largest city in New Mexico and voters used RCV to elect its mayor, municipal judge, and three of its six council members (from districts) using RCV.
The incumbent mayor, Ken Miyagishima, who first won as a challenger in 2007, faced far more competition this year than in prior mayoral elections, with a total of 10 candidates seeking the office. Miyagishima led in the first round with 37.0%, and ultimately won with 55.1% of the final round vote.
The three winners in the city council seats were all women, making the city council majority female for the first time. District 1 incumbent Kasandra Gandara won in the first round with over two-thirds support, while the open seat contests in the other two districts both went to multiple rounds of counting.
The state has not released turnout numbers for Las Cruces, but we can estimate turnout using eligible voter estimates from the U.S. census. By percent of citizen voting age population, turnout was the highest it has been in at least a decade. In 2007, when the present mayor first won election, turnout reached 19.1%, and it fell each successive mayoral election year, down to 14.7% in 2015 before jumping to 20.0% under RCV this year.
Dona Ana County Clerk Amanda Lopez-Askin estimates RCV will save the city and county $80,000 - $100,000 because it eliminates the need for a runoff election.
If RCV had not been in place, the 10-candidate mayoral race would have almost certainly triggered a runoff election, costing the city money and possibly reducing turnout.
Study: 53 percent of Las Cruces voters support ranked choice in future elections, Las Cruces Sun News
Rank some, rank all: Las Cruces voters adapt to first ranked choice election, Las Cruces Sun News
Combined election ballot, ranked-choice voting saves time, money, Las Cruces Bulletin
On November 29, 2017, New Mexico District Judge David Thomson ordered the City of Santa Fe to implement ranked choice voting in time for its March, 2018 elections. The City attempted to contest the order in the New Mexico Supreme Court, but their petition was denied. This page lists important documents and media coverage related to these events. It was last updated November 29, 2017.
In March of 2008, Santa Fe voters adopted a charter amendment to elect their city officials with ranked choice voting. The amendment passed with 65% voting in favor. As amended, the Santa Fe City Charter reads in relevant part as follows:
Commencing with the general municipal election in March 2010, or as soon thereafter 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 (sometimes called instant runoff) voting system allowing voters to rank in order of their preference the candidates for each office appearing on the ballot.
In 2017, the New Mexico Secretary of State certified Dominion's state-of-the-art voting system Democracy Suite 5.4, which includes a module for ranked choice voting meeting the requirements of Santa Fe's charter, for use in all New Mexico elections beginning in 2018, making it available to the city for free. Nonetheless, the Santa Fe City Council voted on June 28th not to implement ranked choice voting until 2020, in spite of the clear language in the City Charter.
On August 30, 2017, a group of Santa Fe voters filed a petition in the New Mexico Supreme Court seeking an order that the City must comply with its charter and implement ranked choice voting. However, for the petition to be proper in the Supreme Court it must only rely on questions of law. After attorneys for the City raised various factual claims, the Supreme Court denied the petition.
On September 29th, the Santa Fe voters refiled the petition, this time in the state district court. After several judges recused for conflicts of interest, the case was heard by Judge David Thomson. After briefing and oral argument, Judge Thomson ruled in favor of the petitioners. On November 29, 2017, he ordered the City of Santa Fe to implement ranked choice voting in time for its March, 2018 elections.
On December 5th, the Santa Fe City Council decided to move forward with implementation while simultaneously contesting the order in the New Mexico Supreme Court. The City filed on December 13th. The Santa Fe voters, now the "real parties in interest," filed their response on January 8th. On January 9th the New Mexico Supreme Court denied the City's petition.
The following documents are in reverse chronological order, meaning the most recent documents appear at the top.
Ranked choice voting gives you the power to rank as many candidates as you want from favorite to least favorite. On Election Night all the votes are counted for first choice rankings. If one candidate receives a majority of votes in the first round, they win, just like now. If no candidate receives a majority in the first round, the candidate with the fewest first choice rankings is eliminated. If your favorite candidate is eliminated, your vote is instantly counted for your second choice. This repeats until one candidate reaches a majority and wins.
Upholds Majority Rule. RCV ensures that the candidate with the most votes and the broadest support wins, so voters get what they want.
More Power for Voters. Your voice matters more with RCV. You never feel like your vote is “wasted.” If your favorite candidate can't win, your vote counts for the candidate you ranked second.
Eliminates Vote Splitting. RCV gives you the freedom to vote for the candidate you like the best without worrying that you will help to elect the candidate you like the least.
Reduces Incentives for Negative Campaigns. Candidates are encouraged to seek second choice rankings from voters whose favorite candidate is somebody else. You are less likely to rank a candidate as your 2nd choice who has unfairly attacked your favorite candidate.
Better Choices for Voters. Ranked choice voting encourages candidates to take their case directly to you with a focus on the issues.
Cities and counties across the United States use ranked choice voting, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland (ME), and other counties and cities in Colorado, Maryland, Oregon, Tennessee. In 2016 the voters of Maine passed RCV for the highest offices in the state. Governments around the world use ranked choice voting in national elections, including Australia and Ireland. Ranked ballots are recommended by Roberts’ Rules of Order and are used by hundreds of private associations across the United States and around the world.
The Charter provision spells out the exact form of ranked choice voting to be used.
Voters have to be able to rank candidates.
Explains the counting process.
Requires the city to run an RCV election as soon as it has machines that can reject spoiled ballots and count RCV elections.
The county’s voting equipment will be ready to run an election with all these features in 2018.
Yes. In fact, the path to implementation of RCV in Santa Fe is easier than in any previous city. The city’s voting equipment will come ready for RCV elections with an excellent ballot design. The rules governing RCV’s specifics are already determined by the voting equipment and are proven to work in California cities like Oakland. Tested models of voter education can be started earlier than done in most cities, and nonprofit groups like FairVote New Mexico will devote significant time and resources to introduce RCV to voters.
Voters like RCV. Whether it's deciding what car to buy or what menu item to order, we make ranked choices every day of our lives. Shouldn't we have the same power to rank candidates for public office? Ranked choice voting just makes sense. In 2013 and 2014 Eagleton Poll at Rutgers University surveyed voters in RCV cities reactions to RCV. The 2013 survey showed that 90% of respondents found the RCV ballot easy to understand. Similarly, in 2014, 89% of respondents found the RCV ballot easy to understand. In the 2013 Minneapolis elections more than 99% of voters cast a valid ballot, the same as in all mayoral 4 elections with RCV in Oakland and San Francisco.
An independent study performed by St. Cloud State University in 2009 reported that 95% of Minneapolis voters found ranked choice voting easy to use, and 97% of voters of color found using a ranked choice ballot simple.
RCV has been upheld by the Department of Justice under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act and has been used in Bay Area cities while the number of elected people of color has soared.
In 2014, a study by professors at the University of Iowa and Western Washington University found that voters in RCV cities reported less negative campaigns than in cities that did not use RCV. In RCV cities, 42% of voters found the campaign season to be less negative, compared to 28% of voters in cities without RCVs. Clear majorities of voters in all cities with RCV that were part of the study supported this reform.
This is important in fostering positive attitudes among the public towards the democratic process. Furthermore, as candidates seek second and third choices, they must reach out beyond their traditional base and engage with a greater number of voters, naturally bringing more people into the democratic process. After Portland’s first RCV election in Maine, the Portland Press Herald called RCV a winner and said “A candidate with a hot-button neighborhood issue could have run away with the election without ever meeting a voter from another part of town. Under the ranked-choice system, candidates were forced to engage with each other and talk to each other’s voters. The result was an interesting conversation about Portland and its future.”
In the comprehensive study of 26 American cities and a full range of offices across 79 elections, professors at the University of Missouri - St. Louis found ranked choice voting maintained strong levels of turnout in general elections and that RCV increased turnout in elections when compared to primary and runoff elections of similar cities without RCV. They found no evidence that RCV hurts turnout among any groups, including communities of color and low-income voters. Especially when used to avoid low turnout primary and runoffs, RCV ensures that decisive elections take place when the most voters participate.
Ranked choice has been proven in thousands of elections. Every voter would do best to do what the ballot instructions suggest: rank candidates in their honest order of preference, knowing that ranking a candidate as their 2nd choice would not hurt the chances of their 1st choice.