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Santa Fe New Mexican

Election over; time for a better next one
March 8, 2002
Diana Kim and Bruce Berlin

The city election is over. Only 39 percent of registered voters went to the polls and the mayoral winner received only 43 percent of their votes. This means that our mayor for the next four years was elected by only 17 percent of registered voters in Santa Fe. That is hardly a mandate. And we believe that it is clearly not the way our election process should work.

After the confusion and concerns raised by the closeness and likely irregularities of the 2000 presidential vote, The Trinity Forum, a Santa Fe public policy problem-solving group, chose to study the whole election process.

While the Forum reviewed many election concerns, including voter identification, campaign financing, the registration process and voter empowerment, we decided to address first the issue of electing our leaders by only a minority of votes cast.

Trinity began its examination by convening about 20 concerned citizens with a wide variety of political viewpoints. This Trinity dialogue group explored the voting process for eight months. They reviewed in detail many alternative election systems, including Approval, Borda (weighted), Cumulative, Instant Runoff and Separate Election Runoffs. Each process was evaluated against a single list of criteria, including fairness, voter turnout, candidate quality, simplicity and cost.

Since space is limited only the final results are shared here.

The Forum found runoff elections to be valuable in motivating good candidates to run as well as empowering voters to select their most-favored candidate.

The Forum also concluded that instant runoff voting IRV is a better solution than holding a second election between the two largest vote-getters because the latter is costly, time-consuming and numbing to all.

Moreover, IRV provided instant results and enhanced opportunities both for candidates and voters. These advantages outweighed the difficulty in understanding IRV's tallying process.

At present, IRV is used successfully in electing the president of Ireland, a congress in Australia, municipal officials in Cambridge, Mass., and as of Tuesday, city leaders in San Francisco.

An IRV election allows the voter to rank the candidates according to preference. The process collects all the information in one election which is needed for a series of runoffs to obtain a majority vote for a single candidate.

If the first vote tally does not produce a majority winner, runoffs to determine a winner by a majority occur by additional vote tallies. In each additional tally, the last place finisher is eliminated and his or her votes are transferred to the voter's next preference who is still in the running.

This process of reallocation is continued until one candidate receives a majority of the total votes cast. Computers make the tallies quickly and easily.

In IRV elections, voters can vote for the candidate who best represents their viewpoint without concern that their vote may cause the defeat of their second choice, who might otherwise have won with their support. IRV assures voters that their vote will not be "wasted" on a third-party candidate and that ultimately their vote will affect the election outcome.

Candidates and voters would not have to endure additional weeks of campaigning. In addition, candidates are likely to do less negative campaigning in order to attract the second preferences of voters who prefer someone else on their first ballot.

The bottom line is that, given the available practical systems, IRV provides voters and candidates the most positive and participatory environment for conducting elections. Moreover, the community benefits by gaining leaders with a majority mandate and our democracy is enhanced by greater citizen participation.

The Trinity Forum believes that IRV elections should be considered as a viable and desirable change to our current election process. At a minimum, communities should be allowed to use IRV if they so choose. In addition, the electorate should be allowed to decide whether to use IRV for legislative and statewide offices at some point.

We urge the New Mexico Legislature and its committees dealing with elections to give serious consideration to these recommendations.

Diana Kim is executive director and Bruce Berlin is president of The Trinity Forum.

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Copyright 2002 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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