Judge to Rule at 8:30 Today on Ranked Choice Voting in Santa Fe

The lawyer for the constituents went high and argued logic, facts, and precedent, while the City Attorney went low excerpting testimony out of context and using precedent with no legal standing. You should not be pleased with your City this morning.

The verdict on whether the City can proceed with RCV will be rendered at 8:30am today at District Court, 225 Montezuma in Santa Fe.  Retake will be there and will post the verdict on our Facebook page, click here, and while there, ‘like’ the page as we often post up to the minute updates on issues or articles and information on community events and actions we don’t present in the blog.

It will come as no surprise to our readers that I have been disappointed with the City’s response to the Ranked Choice Voting opportunity. I won’t repeat the reasons why RCV makes so much sense today with five candidates for Mayor. But what I do want to highlight is the lack of leadership and proactive planning on the part of our City.  Despite it being very apparent that the Court might order the City to implement RCV by March 2018 and despite what I suspect are scores, even hundreds of communications from constituents urging action to implement RCV by March, the City has done nothing to prepare for RCV. While court hearings have been going on the City could have:

  • Convened a meeting of the Council to develop a protocol to define how Dominion’s Democracy Suite 5.4 software should handle a variety of options available to any jurisdiction, e.g. how many candidates can be ranked? What happens to a vote if someone only votes for their first choice? What happens if a voter votes for the same candidate several times as first, second and third choice? The Council must make these determinations in order to inform the software how to handle these options and in order to direct the Clerk to develop educational materials. These decision-making steps are something that must be taken regardless of when the RCV is implemented. Dominion and the SOS have offered to help with both tasks, but neither has had any response from the City to discuss these offers of support.
  • Once these decisions were made the Council could have directed the Clerk to begin developing a ballot, educational materials and a voter education campaign plan to prepare the voters;
  • Responded to constituent advocacy for RCV and explained the City’s reasons for court action and for not taking any steps to prepare for RCV. Despite emails to the Mayor and several City Councilors I have gotten no response and I have heard of no constituent who has written to the Mayor or the City Council who has gotten a response and despite communications asking the City to at least schedule an emergency meeting to begin developing plans (above) to be ready.

In yesterday’s testimony, Steven Bennett, Dominion’s staffer who installed Dominion in New Mexico, described how:

  • Dominion has offered training and technical assistance to the City to prepare for the election and that the City has not responded to the offer in any way;
  • Three months was easily enough time for the City to prepare for an RCV election and that with a five-candidate election, the decision-making on how to program the software might take between an hour to at most a week—for this specific election, he estimated 2-3 hours to complete the work;
  • It would require at most 3-7 days of training of election staff to be ready to manage the election;
  • Numerous other cities have successfully used the same software to be used in NM (albeit with slight customizing configurations);
  • He has been performing this election work for 15 years and so is a considerable expert in the time frame and challenges in implementing RCV;
  • Election results would be tabulated exactly as quickly if there were no RCV being used, i.e. same night results; and
  • Software will tell a voter instantly that they have made an error in their ballot and direct the voter as to what the error is and their options for remedying the error.

When asked if he had anything to add, Bennett noted that despite repeated efforts to engage the City, he has had no communication from the City. He stated that the City had often misstated the facts of the case and has harmed the reputation of Dominion rather than engage in dialog.

The Secretary of State, described how she had served as Bernalillo County Clerk and managed many local election processes. Her testimony underscored what was stated by Bennett. She affirmed that the design of the ballot should take no longer than a day or two and that there is plenty of time to conduct the needed voter education and that most voters do not focus on the election until weeks before the election is held.  State Elections Director Kari Fresquez held her own despite persistent twisting of her statements by the City Attorney. All three witnesses strongly declared that the software was ready and that there was adequate time for the City to prepare, although witnesses also asserted that the City could and should have been preparing while the case was in court.

At this point most of those in the audience were feeling reasonably confident.  But after the summations that confidence increased as Teresa Leger de Fernendez presented a brilliant, crystal clear defense of RCV being constitutional and tightly and logically summed up the evidence demonstrating that the plaintiffs had met the judges criteria for the Evidentiary Hearing: 1) prove that the software is ready and 2) demonstrate that RCV was constitutional. She even anticipated the City’s case for claiming RCV was unconstitutional by deftly pointing out that Roundhouse legislative consideration of RCV over a decade ago had no legal standing as the legislative deliberation never resulted in any law being passed. The City Attorney on the other hand was left pretty much empty-handed, with nothing substantive to offer by means of proving RCV to be unconstitutional and having only the weakest case for the software not being available.

Nonetheless, despite Leger de Fernandez clearly laying out that any time crunch to prepare RCV was the fault of the City for not beginning to prepare in July or at least in October when court proceedings began and the software had been certified, the judge seemed concerned that there might not be time to get ready.

What is truly sad is that the City’s response to the decision of the voters ten years ago, has been to do everything it could to avoid implementing the will of the voters, especially with an election of such importance and with five candidates running for Mayor. What has also been disheartening has been the City’s lack of communication about the reasons for their delaying actions and the potential impact on voter attitude toward their leadership.

In any case, the decision is only an hour away. As noted above, I will post the verdict on Retake Our Democracy’s Facebook page as soon as the decision is rendered.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne



Categories: Election, Political Reform & National Politics, Local-State Government & Legislation

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