June 18, 2019

ABQ city council votes down ranked-choice voting

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Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

Albuquerque will not become the latest city in the state to adopt ranked-choice voting.

The Albuquerque City Council voted 5-4 Monday night against implementing a ranked-choice voting system in time for the next municipal election in November.

Ranked-choice voting is also known as instant-runoff, and is a process in which voters ranked their choices of candidates. In a ranked-choice election, if no candidate gets a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated from the list and voters who chose that candidate have their second choice counted. That process continues until there is a winner with the majority of the votes.

Currently, the Albuquerque election code requires candidates get at least 50 percent of the votes in order to be declared a winner. If no candidate gets at least 50 percent, a run-off election is required.

Last year, the City of Santa Fe became the first municipality in New Mexico to conduct an election using ranked choice voting. The city of Las Cruces also approved ranked-choice voting.

Council President Klarissa Peña said she voted against it because she thought the new way of voting would create voter confusion.

“I just don’t think it’s something we need at this time,” Peña said.

Council Vice-President Cynthia Borrego, who also voted against the measure, said she conducted a “mini poll” with her constituents, specifically the elderly ones, to gauge their interests.

“I wanted to hear from the viejitos,” Borrego said.

She said the response from her district was, “Why do we want to change?”

Other councilors said they were concerned with councilors who are running for reelection also making changes to how they are elected.

Councilor Dianne Gibson offered an amendment that would delay the implementation until 2021 in hopes of eliminating any perceived conflicts of interest.    

“The fact that we do have three councilors who are in races, who will appear on the upcoming ballot is enough to push a little bit of a discussion on that,” Gibson said.

Gibson’s amendment passed 7-2, but it wasn’t enough to sway most of the council.

Councilors Pat Davis, Isaac Benton and Brad Winter sponsored the measure and all three voted for it, but Winter said he had some hesitation as he is not running for reelection.

“I have trouble supporting something that maybe another council should vote on,” Winter said.

Benton and Davis are both running for reelection this year.

Councilor Ken Sanchez said he doesn’t have an issue with changing how Albuquerque municipal elections are decided, but thought it should be the voters who decide.  

“I have no problem with ranked-choice voting,” Sanchez said. “I believe it should not be the nine members of this council making that decision.”   

Many members of the public argued that ranked-choice voting would save the city money by eliminating the need for expensive  run-off elections.

Councilor Trudy Jones said she didn’t buy the excuse from many of those supporters that voters apathetically don’t show up for a second election weeks after the initial one.

According to the city’s numbers from 2017, about the same amount of people voted in both the initial and runoff election, though that election featured a mayoral race.   

Jones said voting is “our obligation as free citizens of the United States of America,” and that voters should treat it as such.

Another proposal, sponsored by Councilor Don Harris, would ask voters to decide whether the city should switch to ranked-choice voting.

Both Benton and Davis said they would begrudgingly vote to at least get ranked-choice voting on the ballot this year.

But, after Harris modified his original proposal and seemed to have enough approval to pass it, he opted to defer the issue until the next council meeting. His concern, he said, was that a voter initiative like his requires at least one additional meeting to discuss it. If the council opts to amend it at the next meeting, a third hearing will be required for Harris’ proposal. To avoid more delays, Harris said he wanted to “have the [city] clerk write a bomb amendment” and hopefully have a final version by the end of August in order to get on the November ballot.

Most of the members of the public spent their comment time trying to convince councilors that ranked-choice voting is easy to understand. One woman used the process of ranking ones favorite candy flavors as an example of how easy it is.

But, maybe the most practical example came from a constituent named Rich Weiner. After he already spoke in favor of the council passing ranked-choice voting, Weiner was called back to speak about the idea of voters deciding. He said he signed up twice to speak in favor of ranked-choice voting in case the council voted against it.

Weiner succinctly said, “Getting [ranked-choice voting] on the ballot now is my second choice.”

Correction: This post originally said Albuquerque would have been the second city to adopt ranked choice voting. Santa Fe and Las Cruces each have adopted ranked choice voting.