Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Keller pushing city to adopt ranked choice voting

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller is proposing the city implement ranked choice voting for mayoral and city councilor races. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/ file)

Albuquerque leaders are slated to take a second look at ranked choice voting, with Mayor Tim Keller backing a new proposal to change the way city voters mark their ballots.

The City Council swatted down similar legislation three years ago, but Keller is pushing for ranked choice as a way to eliminate runoff elections and save the city money.

Winning elected office in Albuquerque city government — either as mayor or a city councilor — requires securing at least 50% of the vote. But city races are officially nonpartisan and often attract more than two candidates, so it is not unusual for the most popular candidates to miss that threshold. In those cases, the top two voter-getters proceed to a runoff.

Last year, two City Council races required a runoff. That election cost the city $610,424, bringing Albuquerque’s total runoff election expenses since 2013 to nearly $2.5 million, according to the new proposal that Councilors Isaac Benton and Tammy Fiebelkorn are sponsoring on the administration’s behalf.

The current election calendar puts those runoff elections in December — another reason Keller is advocating for the change.

“Run-off elections see a dramatic decline in voter participation, they are inconvenient for voters, and cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be used for priorities like public safety and housing,” mayoral spokesman Babaak Parcham said in a written statement . “Ranked choice voting is a system being used in local elections across the country and it’s a reform we believe Albuquerque should have a real conversation about.”

With ranked choice ballots, voters rank each candidate in a race by preference. If no candidate gets at least 50% of the first-place votes, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and a new count then factors second-place preference for the voters whose candidate was eliminated. The process continues until a candidate reaches the 50% threshold.

Several communities around the US — including Santa Fe — use ranked choice voting.

Benton was among a trio of Albuquerque city councilors who introduced a similar, but unsuccessful, proposal in 2019. Some opponents initially argued it was too close to an election, as the sponsors — two of whom were seeking consideration — had proposed the change about seven months ahead of a city election. But even after the council amended the legislation so that ranked choice voting would not take effect until two years later, the council rejected it on a 5-4 vote. At least one opponent, Councilor Klarissa Peña, said she thought the new voting style might ultimately confuse city voters and was not something the city needed at the time.

Benton said it’s worth pursuing again with a bill to implement it in time for the 2023 local election.

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“We spend a lot of money on these runoffs and it’s hugely taxing as a candidate, as well, to go through another round of fundraising. … We’ll see if we can get it across the finish line this time,” he said.

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