By Jennie Lusk
Imagine that last fall’s runoff elections for City Council Districts 7 and 9 could be resolved on the same day as the general election balloting. In that scenario, taxpayers could have saved more than $600,000 for voting sites, paying poll workers, deploying and certifying voting machines, and all the rest of the December runoff expenses.
Imagine the goodwill we Democrats could have maintained by selecting our candidate for U.S. Congress last spring through an instant runoff election. Instead, State Central Committee (SCC) members winnowed down a highly competitive field of candidates in one election and identified a winner who did not garner a true majority. Then, in a later runoff election, SCC members selected a different candidate as the Party’s nominee, leaving supporters in both camps and party volunteers disillusioned and exhausted.
A later runoff decided the Democratic Party’s candidate when the initial winner failed to win 50% of the vote in the initial balloting for District 7. After the runoff In District 9, a Republican was elected. In both cases, the number of candidates standing for election made it unlikely, though not impossible, for the winner in the first round of balloting to have amassed a majority of the votes.
Many Democrats are beginning to wonder what we and our party gain by holding two separate elections for some posts, and whether runoff elections in our municipalities and counties encourage or discourage voter engagement. Runoff elections are an additional expense to governments and to individual candidates. Beyond that, studies have shown that delays between initial and runoff votes discourage turnout. Decreased turnout dilutes the main benefit of an election, which is improving representation by allowing voters to select a candidate with broad popular support.
Perhaps it’s time to consider other methods of selecting a candidate. We could still have a winner who represents a majority of voters, without having two separate elections. We may want to consider implementing Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), or an “instant runoff” election. That’s the system currently in place in Las Cruces and in Santa Fe, where it is used for mayor, city council, and municipal judge elections. And in our party processes, where people struggle to understand Appendix A voting, perhaps RCV would offer a positive alternative.
RCV is also the system more than 10 million voters in 52 cities, counties, and states nationwide plan to use in this year’s elections, according to Fairvote.org, a nationwide, nonpartisan group advocating for implementation of RCV. (See more at: https://www.fairvote.org)
Voters don’t vote only for one candidate and then return, if necessary, for a separate election to determine the candidate selected by a true majority. The result of an RCV election is similar to traditional run-off elections, in that the winner receives a majority of votes, but an RCV election involves a single trip to the polls.
Voters in an RCV election rank their preferences in order—first, second, third and sometimes beyond. Every voter’s first choice is tallied first. If no candidate wins a majority in the first tally, the candidate with the fewest votes gets eliminated. If the eliminated candidate was a voter’s first choice, the voter’s second choice is selected and so on. Eventually one candidate receives a majority (over 50%) and wins the election.
In the case of internal party elections, RCV differs from voting in two separate elections and it differs from “Appendix A” voting, where counting stops after the required number of ballots is tallied in favor of a candidate. In RCV, unlike Appendix A, every vote is counted.
It could be time to give RCV a try in Albuquerque. Doing so would require a change in the City charter or, for statewide implementation, a change to state law. However, a constitutional amendment is not necessarily required, as the State constitution allows the candidate with the highest number of votes to be declared the winner of an election, except when lawmakers or city administrations opt for a different system. Legislators are thinking about it, as demonstrated by SJR1 (2022), introduced in January by Albuquerque Sen. Bill Tallman (SD 18). That constitutional amendment focuses on eliminating the closed primary system and, at the same time, provides for an instant runoff election for statewide, legislative and U.S. Congressional races. The amendment was not required to provide for instant runoffs, though it was required to implement a closed primary system.
It may be time to simplify our Party voting systems, too. Doing that would require only Rules Committee and SCC approval.