Santa Fe Lawsuit Resources

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.

Important Documents

The following documents are in reverse chronological order, meaning the most recent documents appear at the top.

Petition for Extraordinary Writ in New Mexico Supreme Court (December - January)

Writ of Mandamus in New Mexico District Court (September - November)

Writ of Mandamus in New Mexico Supreme Court (August - September)

Media Coverage

New Mexico District Court Exhibits

Affidavits from Experts 

Affidavits from Plaintiffs 

New Mexico Supreme Court Exhibits

Affidavits from Experts 

Affidavits from Plaintiffs 

Voter Education: Messages to Santa Fe City Council, July 2017


How does Ranked Choice Voting work?

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.

What are the benefits of voting with a ranked choice ballot?

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.

Where is ranked choice voting used?

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.

What does the Santa Fe charter say about ranked choice voting?

The Charter provision spells out the exact form of ranked choice voting to be used.

  1. Voters have to be able to rank candidates.

  2. Explains the counting process.

  3. 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.

Does Santa Fe have time to run an RCV election in March 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.

How do average voters handle ranked choice voting ballots?

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.

How does ranked choice voting affect communities of color?

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.

Does data support the argument that RCV reduces negative campaigning in jurisdictions where it has been adopted?

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.”

Does RCV affect voter turnout?

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.

Does RCV produces fair results?

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.

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