Recently Albuquerque held an election for mayor where seven candidates vied for the office: Michelle Garcia Holmes, Brian Colon, Susan Wheeler-Deischel, Tim Keller, Dan Lewis, Gus Pedrotty, and Wayne Johnson.
Two days before the election, 20 percent of registered voters were undecided. Too many candidates running, negative campaigning and dark-money funded ads could have contributed the high rate of undecideds -- highest ever recorded that close to a mayoral election. Ultimately, 29 percent of registered voters cast their ballot.
No candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote, triggering a runoff election next month between the two top candidates, progressive Keller (39 percent) and conservative Lewis (22 percent). Democrat Colon (16 percent) finished third.
“It will be interesting to see whose support Lewis and Keller will pick up,” said University of New Mexico Professor Dr. Gabriel Sanchez, adding Keller is likely to pick up Colon’s supporters, though others speculate that a good portion of Colon’s votes could go to Lewis. Sanchez also noted Keller faces a disadvantage in funding, as he is the only candidate that opted for public financing.
The Nov. 7 runoff gives the remaining candidates about six weeks to gain the support those who preferred other candidates in the first round. There will be major spending for both campaigns, and the city will spend approximately $400,000 to administer the runoff (which historically has drawn significantly lower turnouts).
Considering the election’s outcome, the negative campaigning that is likely to worsen, and the cost to both candidates and the city, it’s evident that Albuquerque could have benefited from a ranked choice voting (RCV) election. Rather than a voter going to the ballot and selecting one candidate and then being asked to come back to vote six weeks later in a runoff, voters are given the freedom to rank candidates in order of preference. All first choices are counted, and if a candidate has a majority, then they win, just like any other election.
However if nobody has a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and those voters have their ballot instantly count for their next choice. The process continues until a candidate receives a majority of votes, and is declared the winner.
This method eliminates the need for a runoff election, saving the city taxpayer money and the voters an additional trip to the ballot box.
RCV could also have a significant impact on candidates themselves: minus a runoff, they would not be forced to continue fundraising. A RCV election encourages candidates to be less divisive and seek the backing among the supporters of their opponents. They need to ask voters to consider them as their second or third choice candidate, even if the voter prefers another candidate as their first choice. A more civil discourse leads to less negative campaigning and reduces negative ads flooding the airwaves every election cycle -- ads such as the ones Albuquerque residents were subjected to in the run up to the primary, and which are only likely to escalate in the coming weeks.
“Candidates who have run and won in RCV elections have been successful because of coalition building and effective relationship building with all voters,” said FairVote New Mexico Director Maria Perez.
Numerous cities use RCV to elect local leaders, including: Minneapolis, San Francisco, Cambridge, Mass.; Berkeley, Calif.; Portland, Maine. Santa Fe voters passed RCV and are waiting for implementation. Albuquerque should be next.
Photo courtesy: New Mexico Political Report.