The New Mexico Senate Race this year was by far the best chance the Libertarian Party has ever had of getting a seat in the U.S. Congress, and in the Senate no less.
In this race the nation’s third largest party, still dwarfed by the two main political parties in the United States, had a perfect storm:
A highly credible candidate, with nearly universal name recognition in his state, and a record of actually winning statewide election twice– to New Mexico’s governor’s office– before stepping aside in accordance with the term limits in New Mexico’s constitution.
When he won his first governor’s race in the early 90s, Gary Johnson inherited a state government with finances spiraling out of control like many state governments, but when he left office eight years later, New Mexico’s finances had been completely turned around and the state was running a billion dollar surplus.
Gary Johnson used to joke on the campaign trail while running for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2012, that it was nice to go out in public as a popular governor in New Mexico because people would wave at him with all five fingers, not just one.
Never before has such a prominent office in the echelons of the U.S. federal government been so winnable, had so viable a path forward for a Libertarian Party candidate. Yet he received only 15% of the vote, trailing far behind the Republican who took 30%, and the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Martin Heinrich who won 54%.
Actually governing the state to a high degree of voter satisfaction for eight years was still not enough to avoid the perception that Johnson would be a spoiler for the two major parties’ candidates.
If the state of New Mexico had ranked choice voting, the voters could vote for the candidate they want most without worrying about “throwing away” their vote on a “spoiler” candidate.
Instead they hold their nose for the least bad of two candidates that are perceived as viable because of their party affiliation.
That perception becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy without ranked choice ballots, but with ranked choice ballots, voters rank the candidates in order of preference, and if their preferred candidate gets fewer votes than the rest, their vote will count toward their second choice in an automatic runoff.
If that candidate is eliminated in the second round of tallies, then their vote counts toward their third choice, and so on… until a winner is selected who has both core and broad support.
This fixes a voting process that in most places puts voters in a classic prisoner’s dilemma scenario right out of Nobel Prize winning mathematician John Nash’s principles of game theory.
Ranked choice voting has already been enacted in Sante Fe for mayoral elections, where it increased voter turnout, ran smoothly, and was inexpensive to implement. Same story for the same ballot reform in Maine this midterm election.
If the rest of New Mexico follows Sante Fe’s example and implements ranked choice voting, credible candidates might finally have a fair chance to run for elected office– and voters might finally be able to vote for the candidate they actually want to win.