My view: Include Instant Runoff Voting in election code

By Carol Miller
Published December 9th 2007 in Santa Fe New Mexic
The leadership of the New Mexico Legislature finally caught itself in its web of changes to the election code, designed to take choices away from the voters of the state. Every year at the Legislature, ballot access advocates have watched these changes with horror, observing New Mexico's slide into the group of states at the bottom with the worst ballot access and fewest voter choices.

Now that Speaker of the House Ben Luján finds his son caught in this web, we might get some change but let's go for real change that increases democracy.

Last year, the Legislature passed House Bill 1156, which among its purposes eliminated provisions allowing candidates who fail to receive pre-primary convention designation the right to become candidates. The section they repealed used to allow a candidate to get directly on the ballot by going to voters and getting their signatures and then submitting nominating petitions to the Secretary of State. If a candidate chose to ask the party pre-primary convention for a ballot line but did not receive 20 percent of the vote, they could go back to the voters, collect additional signatures and submit the additional nominating petitions to the Secretary of State.

Letting voters place candidates on the ballot — instead of party activists — was just too much democracy for the New Mexico Democrats. Even though this process had worked for years, it was eliminated without any thought to the consequences. The goal was to let party insiders choose the candidates and let the voters only choose from among those favored by the insiders. The irony is, that in races with a lot of candidates, it's possible that no single candidate will get 20 percent of the vote, so the party could end up without any candidate at all!

So now Luján and others want to declare an emergency in the 2008 Legislature to repeal this bad new law in time for the March 2008 pre-primary conventions. They will try to re-establish a process to let voters place candidates on the ballot. But why not also pass a law to assure that once candidates are on the ballot, only those winning a majority of votes become the victor? Or is that too much democracy for New Mexico?

Over the past ten years, several New Mexico legislators have introduced bills to enact a system of voting that assures that every person elected also received the majority of the votes. It is simple; it is the essence of democracy, and it has always been defeated in New Mexico. Instant Runoff Voting is not new. Developed by a mathematician and used in Cambridge, Mass., for 70 years, it has been adopted as the fairest voting system by numerous countries, as well as cities and states around the United States.

IRV is as easy. Voters choose their first, second, and third choice (or more on a very full ballot) and the winner must receive a majority of votes, at least 50 percent plus one. IRV works like regular runoff elections but does not require a separate, second election with its extra costs and frequently reduced voter turnout. The non-partisan Center for Voting and Democracy has been leading advocacy for IRV for years and held several workshops in New Mexico for voters and legislators. (See Web site at

IRV works like this: Votes are counted the same way as in any election. If a candidate receives the majority, they are elected. If no candidate gets 50 percent, votes are re-allocated. The candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and the second-place votes cast by his or her voters are re-assigned while the remaining voters continue to support their first choice. Often a candidate with a majority is elected in this second round. In a race with many candidates, the process will be repeated until a majority winner is elected.

Voters in states and localities that allow initiative and referendum are passing IRV in every election cycle across the United States from Vermont to North Carolina to Colorado. As the word spreads on its benefits, costs savings and most important — voter satisfaction — other places are choosing this important democracy builder. New Mexico deserves elections where the candidate who wins is always chosen by a majority of the voters.

Carol Miller is a public health activist who lives in Ojo Sarco.