Could a ranked-choice election violate the state constitution? City councilors don’t want to risk it. A majority of councilors, while agreeing Monday to support preparations for ranked-choice voting in the March municipal election, said they want city attorneys to pursue a ruling from the state Supreme Court on the voting format. Councilors said a high court decision would resolve lingering questions about ranked-choice voting, including its constitutionality, and avert a potential legal challenge to election results. “Probably the worst thing that could happen is we hold an election and someone comes back after the fact and says, ‘Oh, well, that election is invalid,’ ” said Councilor Peter Ives, one of five candidates for mayor. “Ultimately, it boils down to be a question of the integrity of the election.”
The City Council decision to prepare for ranked-choice voting while also seeking a court ruling on its constitutionality is the latest chapter in a long history. It’s been nearly a decade since city voters decided to make Santa Fe the first city in New Mexico with ranked-choice voting, sometimes referred to as an instant runoff.
In a ranked-choice election, voters rank candidates. If no candidate receives a majority of first-place rankings, the last-place candidate is eliminated. The second choices of the voters who supported the last-place candidate are then counted. The process continues until, according to the city charter, one candidate has a majority of votes.