Ranked Choice Voting in New Mexico

In 2008, Santa Fe announced that it would be switching from a plurality voting system, where each voter only gets one vote, to a ranked choice voting (RCV) system with instant runoffs, where voters can rank as many candidates as they want by preference. This new system has a multitude of benefits for voters in Santa Fe and the rest of New Mexico.

First, RCV serves the people by ensuring that candidates must connect with voters beyond their traditional bases in order to win, thus paving the way for representatives to be better at hearing and addressing the needs of all constituents. RCV also ensures that the winning candidate has garnered support across the community and eliminates the possibility of being elected in spite of opposition from a large portion of voters. Lastly, RCV eliminates the need for the multiple-round elections that we are accustomed to in the U.S. This benefits voters in two ways: 1) the cost of political participation is reduced by only having to go to the polling station once per election and 2) incumbent representatives spend less time campaigning and fundraising and more time serving the people.

Although voters in Santa Fe took the initiative to switch electoral systems a decade ago, the city only obtained the necessary equipment to implement this system in 2018, making the March mayoral and city council elections the first time it was put to the test in New Mexico.

On election day, FairVote New Mexico asked voters leaving the polling centers about their experience with the new RCV system and the results were overwhelmingly positive. According to the report released by FairVote, respondent satisfaction with the new system was at 94% with over 55% of respondents saying that they like the new RCV system and only 26% saying that they did not like it. One concern about adopting an RCV system is that it has the potential to complicate the voting procedure, which may discourage voter turnout. However, turnout this year topped 40% of registered voters, which is a significant increase compared to the 2018 mayoral election turnout of only 28% of registered voters. Additionally, the FairVote report found that more than 67% of respondents did not find the new system confusing at all, while only 6% found it very confusing. With 70% of respondents agreeing that the RCV system should be used in future election, it is unlikely that the new system will dissuade voters from participating in the future and such concerns are unfounded. This relatively seamless transition can likely be attributed to FairVote New Mexico and the city’s efforts to inform voters on the new system before election day. In addition to being satisfied with the new system, voters appear to actually be taking advantage of the opportunity to support more than one candidate with only 11.15% of respondents saying that they only voted for one candidate. As a result, Mayor-elect Alan Webber is heading into office with support from voters across the city and a mandate to serve them all well.

Ranked choice voting may be the next step in overcoming hyper-partisanship; if voters know that they have the option to support more than one candidate, there will be less pressure to adhere to political tribes for fear of “vote splitting”. This means that voters can vote in line with their actual preferences, even if that preference doesn’t belong to one of the two parties or doesn’t have their party’s nomination. Hopefully, more cities in New Mexico will follow in Santa Fe’s steps by switching to a voting system that encourages competition and gives voters a greater say in choosing their representatives.