We all need each other to have a successful election in Las Cruces this year. For the first time we will use ranked choice voting to determine the strongest support for mayor and city council candidates. While ranked choice voting has been used successfully in other countries and other cities in America, including Santa Fe, our task is to get each other up to speed on how ranked choice voting works. Together can make sure our election has the best impact on our city government and democracy.
With low voter turnout in local elections, recent reforms like ranked choice voting, consolidating elections, and same day voter registration have the potential to increase turnout and energize participation in local government. There is still much work to be done to further democratize and modernize elections in New Mexico, but our city’s collective ability to unite in voter education and participation will move us closer to a more inclusive and representative democracy.
In recent months New Mexico CAFe (Communidades en Acción y de Fe) has conducted a nonpartisan voter education campaign to help Las Cruces prepare for this election. We have been engaging directly with people at their doors, conducting community presentations, and worked with partner groups to organize a mayoral candidate forum. Our focus has been on engaging young people, communities of color, and people from low income backgrounds, because they are often least represented in government at every level.
It is surprising to hear some in our community who are very confused and even angry about ranked choice voting. Though it is a new voting system for Las Cruces, the majority of voters we speak to quickly understand this process, and with a little patience and dialogue, most soon become comfortable and are ready to go vote.
The young voters we have spoken with give us the most hope. Not only are they able to quickly adapt and understand the new system, they often share excitement about election formats that are more engaging. Younger voters recognize the value of more inclusive processes that allow for more choice than the gridlocked and out-of-touch options they’ve observed their whole lives.
Sadly, young people still don’t participate enough, especially in local elections. Though they will inherit the decisions of the leaders we elect, not enough are voting. The good news is that elections like this are excellent opportunities for older voters to communicate with young people and share their wisdom. Older voters can also be reminded that the decisions they make in the voting booth will have a lasting impact on future generations.
We often make things more complicated and divisive than they need to be, fortunately ranked choice voting is not that difficult. We tell voters to simply rank as many or as few candidates in the order that they support them. Ranking additional candidates will never hurt your first choice but it can give your vote more power in determining the broadest level of support for candidates in our city.
This election is an opportunity for our community to unite in education and participation. Our government is stronger when more people participate and hold our leaders accountable.The future of strong local government will depend on our ability to work together to create a more inclusive democracy that engages more voters. Embracing forward-thinking changes and dialogue with people who are different than us can help us get there.
Abraham Sanchez is a community organizer with NM CAFe and Gaby Avila, an intern with NM CAFe, is a New Mexico State University social work student.