On the latest episode of “Voices & Choices,” former FairVote New Mexico director Maria Perez talks about efforts to implement ranked choice voting in Santa Fe in a whirlwind information campaign just a few weeks before its debut RCV election. Now with Common Cause, Perez has continued to champion RCV by coordinating implementation efforts in Las Cruces and continued advocacy statewide.
The following is an excerpt from the interview, slightly edited for clarity.
Lavin: I understand there was some back and forth with the city council local and also at the state level that you had to kind of navigate through, just a bunch of hurdles and back and forth to realize implementation.
Maria Perez: There was a lot of concern about voters not understanding this. Are the machines going to work? You know, ‘the sky is falling’ basically. There were so many worries about all sorts of things, not only from the city councils, but also from the city clerk who was tasked with actually administering the election...
Now mind you, it's not up to the discretion of the city council to to decide to kick the can down the road a little more. They had to implement it. The equipment was there, was ready. The machines were ready. It was time to do it. But both times, the city council voted against implementation, and they wanted to just wait a little bit longer. At that point. it was a matter of whether we could bring up a legal challenge to that decision. …
We did get that ruling. It was about eight weeks before the election but we got about two months to actually get this done: educate the candidates, educate the voters and get this implemented for the March 2018 election.
Nancy Lavin: Wow. And so let's talk about voter education.
Maria Perez: Yes. Voter education was was really the key because if we did not secure a successful implementation we were going to run into a lot of problems. This had to be successful.
The first step that I took, I think it was the day after the court ruled in favor of implementation, was I went and met with the city's public information officer.
And we said ‘let's put this legal battle behind us and let's move forward together as a team. What is the city prepared to do? What is the coalition of community partners?’
We came up with a really good plan during that meeting, which was that the city was going to take sort of like the 30,000 feet approach to voter education: run some radio ads, develop a website and a branding campaign.
And what we were going to do as a coalition of community groups was really hit the voters more on a one-to-one or small group level. One of the things we did was to regrant some money to a local peacebuilding organization to educate the voters, particularly in neighborhoods of low-income neighborhoods where mostly people of color and low propensity voters live. This is a lot of where the Spanish speaking population of the city lived also. The canvass was bilingual. They had materials in Spanish and in English.
...A key piece of it that really is important and I would encourage everybody to do as your first step in voter education is to do a training for candidates and their campaign staff. Each candidate is going to be knocking on hundreds of doors, reaching out to many, many voters, so they need to be on point. They need to know how to message. They need to know how to explain ranked reporting to their voters. And it's in their interest. They need to know that their voters are going to know how to use the ballot and that they understand the system.
We did this in a flash. We had a week and we got it done and it was very successful.