Clarification for City Confusion over Ranked Choice: Council Votes Today at 5

Yesterday, I mistakenly sent out the blog intended for this morning. Today, we update and provide precise language to use with a Council that has been confused by advice from the Asst. City Attorney. Also, more on Andrea Romero’s challenge to Carl Trujillo.

Andrea Romero Challenges Carl Trujillo in District 46.  First, we want to clarify that while Retake welcomes primary challenges of seated Democrats in some instances, it isn’t as if we are anticipating or hoping for challenges to many Democrats. While we have not established specific criteria, we would be most receptive to challenges coming in solidly safe Democratic districts, where the challenger is more progressive. To continue to increase diversity of the Roundhouse, we also welcome younger candidates of color and women. Finally, we would only welcome challenges to Democratic incumbents if there is a pattern of not being supportive of progressive legislation. Retake wants to take a deeper look at Andrea Romero’s just announced challenge of Carl Trujillo in Dist. 46, however, clearly Andrea is a younger Hispanic woman and very progressive, challenging an incumbent who has been rated poorly by the League of Conservation Voters of New Mexico.  His 57% scores in 2013 and 2014 and lifetime 73% score do not look very good considering that 19 Democrats had 90% or higher lifetime scores. We expect more from a Democrat in an entirely safe district. We will be doing more research on both candidates, but at first blush certainly welcome this primary race.

City Council to Decide on How to Implement RCV Today Amidst Evidence of City Staff Stalling Implementation

Here is what you need to know and do:

  • If you want to hear our City Council discuss how they might implement RCV, please attend the Council meeting at 3pm today.
  • If you want to provide public comment on RCV, please attend the 5pm City Council meeting which will include a vote for an ordinance defining how RCV will be implemented (assuming the Supreme Court challenge fails) and determining if the Council will authorize a second runoff due to their misunderstanding that RCV will result in a majority winner without need for that runoff.
  • If you can’t make the meetings, please weigh in by phone and email to your Councilor and the Mayor. After an email exchange with the Mayor yesterday, I am confident he is opposed to the unnecessary second runoff, he opposed the Supreme Court challenge and he has been a solid supporter of implementing RCV, as have Councilors Villarreal and Maestas, however, other Councilors need to hear from you.  Click here to get to City Council and Mayoral contact information.

Below are concise speaking points derived from an excellent note from Craig O’Hare. I have inserted clarifying language for those of you who are not that familiar with RCV and how it should work. Even with my clarification, RCV is really not easy to understand for anyone who isn’t deeply in the weeds of RCV, so I recommend cutting and pasting the language below and sending it to your Council rep and when calling, simply refer to your email and to your asking your Councilor to “ensure that the City incorporates language that ensures “continuing balloting” in its authorizing ordinance.

We would like you to raise two concerns with your City Councilor:  1) confusion about how RCV should be implemented; and 2) the pace with which RCV preparation appears to be unfolding.

First we examine the source of Council confusion, an incorrect interpretation of how RCV works by the Asst. City Attorney.

12/19/17 Staff Memo from Zachary Shandler, Assistant City Attorney, to the Governing Body:  Craig has done excellent detective work and has identified the source of City Council confusion over whether a second runoff, weeks after the March election would be needed.  Shandler’s memo to Council appropriately references the City Charter which “calls for the percentage of votes to be calculated using “votes cast” as the denominator.” For example, if 100 votes were cast that 100 votes would be the denominator and for a candidate to win they would need 51 votes to achieve a greater that 50% win (51/100= 51%). So far Shandler is on solid ground.

But Shandler errs in an important way when calculating the denominator (votes cast) as RCV moves forward. The way RCV achieves an ensured 50% +1 vote is that if the first tally fails to achieve a majority winner, the candidate with the least votes has their second choice ballots distributed to the candidates selected by their supporters. As long as all voters rank all the candidates, RCV will ultimately result in a 50% +1 winner. But if some voters fail to rank other candidates AND the original number of “votes cast” is used, then while unlikely, it is theoretically possible that no candidate would emerge with a majority vote.  That is why it is important to incorporate language concerning “continuing ballots” in the ordinance. With “continuing ballots,” the numerator (votes cast) is adjusted to include only the number of votes that continue to provide rankings. In this context, RCV mathematically must achieve a 50% + 1 winner. 

This is specifically what the ordinance needs to include. To ensure that RCV is implemented in this manner, the Council needs to include in the “Definitions” section of proposed Ord. #2017-32, language that ensures that the City uses continuing ballot. O’Hare indicates this can be achieved by making the following change in the Ordinance: insert “from the continuing ballots” between the words “votes” and “that” on pg. 3, line 25.  Other revisions in that section might be needed or helpful including the definition of “Majority of votes” (pg. 2, line 14) and/or by adding “Votes Cast” and/or “Voting Rounds” definitions.

But the bottom line is clear; Mr. Shandler’s interpretation of “votes cast” does not make sense for instant runoff voting (i.e. RCV).  In a more traditional runoff election (like Albuquerque just had) only the number of votes cast in the runoff election are “counted” or relevant. So, too with RCV; only the number of votes cast in the final round are relevant.

Evidence of Slow City Implementation.  The City is to be commended for committing $350K to the community education and staff training to prepare for RCV, but we are concerned that there is evidence that the City Clerk is not moving quickly to advance planning for RCV. However, O’Hare and Retake are concerned that preparation is not proceeding as quickly as it needs to given that time is clearly of the essence. It’s been over two weeks since the governing body voted unanimously to proceed with implementing RCV.  Fiscal Impact Report #3014 indicates that the $350K in expenditures will be presented in a “separate bill” which presumably means the first Council meeting in January.  It’s unfortunate that the expenditure ordinance was not included for tomorrow’s meeting and that the funds won’t be approved until next month.  We hope that this is not an indication that the City is not aggressively pursuing RCV implementation in earnest as directed by District Court Judge David Thomson and in no way is “dragging its feet” hoping that its attempt to kill RCV in court will be successful. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that the Clerk has reached out to the SOS, the Director of Elections or Dominion to begin planning for implementation and ballots must be ready in early January.

I hope this clarifies the source of confusion relating to RCV and how and why our Councilors have been confused, as well. Unless you really dig in and study the internal workings of the RCV process, appreciating the subtleties is difficult, if not impossible. Retake feels that one of its most important contributions to civic debate is to spend the time to synthesize various sources of information and trying to simplify things for constituents.

I hope this helps and with the information above, I hope that you can at least contact your City Councilor and/or attend the hearing today.

In solidarity,

Paul & Roxanne

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