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Election Officials Flat Out Refuse to Implement Nonpartisan Reforms Approved by Voters

In an effort to make representation in the United States more illustrative of its diverse demographics and to provide voters with more choices, multiple local governments have adopted ranked choice voting (often called instant runoff voting), as a method to conduct their elections.

In fact, this past Election Day, voters in six cities witnessed what effect the RCV method has on voter choice, candidate accountability, campaign strategy, turnout, and competition. However, while some cities have implemented RCV seamlessly, others have not.

A few weeks ago, IVN published a story explaining that upcoming implementations of RCV are expected in Memphis, TN, Sarasota, FL, and Santa Fe, NM. Voters in these cities overwhelmingly approved the use of RCV almost a decade ago, yet the method has not been used in their municipal elections.

In Santa Fe, NM, where voters passed RCV in 2008 with 65 percent approval, voting machines with software able to conduct RCV elections are still not available.

Back in 2013, in an effort to update New Mexico’s voting machines, the Voting System Certification Committee met and discussed three new applications. Interestingly, none of these options included ranked choice voting software. 

Voters in these cities overwhelmingly approved the use of RCV almost a decade ago, yet the method has not been used in their municipal elections.

Former Santa Fe Mayor David Coss previously said he “isn’t in a hurry to implement the system and believes those who voted for the concept did so without understanding what it meant.”

As belittling as that is to the 65 percent of Santa Fe voters who did vote for RCV, there might be a light at the end of this very long tunnel. Santa Fe City Clerk, Yolanda Vigil stated in an interview for IVN that “[s]oftware is being created for use with New Mexico’s voting tabulators. The estimated completion time is January 2016.”

Although, she added that it will not be used in Santa Fe’s 2016 elections as it must be certified by the secretary of state’s Office first.

While voters in Santa Fe can rest assured that some progress is being made, voters in Sarasota and Memphis are experiencing a different story.

Voters in Sarasota approved the RCV method back in 2007 with a resounding 78 percent of the vote. Unfortunately, it looks as though Sarasota will not be utilizing the system anytime soon.

Kathy Dent, Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections told IVN that “[u]ntil the state of Florida certifies a voting system that can do RCV, the City of Sarasota will not be using it in their elections.” When asked if the state of Florida is working toward certifying a RCV capable voting machine, Dent responded, “[n]ot that I am aware of.”

Similar to Sarasota and Santa Fe, Memphis voters approved the ranked choice system with 71 percent of the vote back in 2008 and it was reported that Memphis might use RCV in its upcoming 2015 city council elections. Yet, Richard Holden, Administrator of Elections for Shelby County, told IVN that this is an incorrect statement.

When asked if Memphis plans to enact ranked choice voting in any upcoming election, Holden simply responded, “No.”

Keep in mind, RCV elections can be easily administered by hand count. This is what Minneapolis, MN does for their municipal elections and what Ireland does for its national elections. In fact, most overseas nations utilize hand counts for all their elections.

Since public funding for technological upgrades is currently inadequate, utilizing the hand count method is the next best option.

In an age where technological upgrades happen exponentially, it is astonishing that so little progress has been made to install machine upgrades that voters approved years ago. It begs the question whether this implementation lag is truly due to technological challenges or administrative stalling. Ultimately, ranked choice voting is growing in popularity and the more places that approve and implement RCV, the easier it will be for others to follow in their footsteps.

Photo Credit: Tom Halloran