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Many reasons cited for slow vote results

SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe City Clerk Yolanda Vigil defended the tardiness of the results from Tuesday’s municipal election – the first in New Mexico using the ranked-choice method of voting – and she won’t promise that it won’t happen again.

Santa Fe City Clerk Yolanda Vigil announces results from Santa Fe's first-ever ranked-choice election Tuesday

Santa Fe City Clerk Yolanda Vigil announces results from Santa Fe’s first-ever ranked-choice election Tuesday. (T.S. Last/Albuquerque Journal)

Vigil announced the winners shortly before midnight Tuesday, nearly five hours after the polls had closed. The much-anticipated result of the mayoral election didn’t come until 11:49 p.m.

Under the old system, when elections were decided by plurality, partial results would be made public as they trickled in, and final results were generally known by 10:30 p.m. or so.

“Obviously, we did want to be careful,” Vigil said Thursday. “This was our first-time opportunity to do this.” Vigil added that her office had little time to test the new voting system beforehand. Her crew did run one mock election ahead of Tuesday’s election.

“But other than that, everything was brand new to us,” she said.

Before ranked-choice votes could be run through the computer system to allow algorithms to sort them all out, memory cards from all voting machines – not just some of them – from the city’s 12 voting centers needed to be in hand in order to run results for the first round of ranked-choice vote-counting.

“This is the first time we needed to do that,” she said.

Vigil said election officials had to wait for cards from the voter center at Gonzales Community School, which didn’t come into City Hall until about 9:30 p.m. – 2½ hours after the polls closed and more than two hours before results were announced.

She said Gonzales was the busiest polling place Tuesday, when more than 2,000 people turned out.

“They had to reconcile everything, so that took a little time,” she said. “It’s not just, ‘OK, it’s 7 o’clock. Let’s shut everything down.’ We have to reconcile everything. The presiding judge wants to make sure it’s right.”

Another issue was ballots from absentee voters and military personnel. Those come in via email, then have to be transferred onto ballots. And, again, those have to be loaded into the system before first-round results could be run, she said.

Another issue came up in the District 2 city councilor race, which had three candidates.

Vigil said after the first-round results were run, one of five representatives from Dominion Voting Systems, the company that produces the software to compute ranked-choice results, made the mistake of starting to run the results for a second round.

That wasn’t necessary, because Carol Romero-Wirth had surpassed the 50 percent threshold needed to win in the first round. “So we had to backtrack,” she said.

Both Vigil and a representative of Dominion told the Journal there were no major delays due to the voting machines or software.

Alan Webber won the five-candidate race for mayor Tuesday after four rounds of vote-counting under the ranked-choice voting, or RCV system.

In ranked-choice voting, which applies in races with more than two candidates, voters rank their choices from first to last, choose just a first choice or rank just some of the candidates. If no candidate has more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes after the first round of counting, the candidate receiving the fewest votes is eliminated. The second-choice votes on those ballots are distributed to the remaining candidates.

The process is repeated round by round until someone has a majority of votes counted. In later rounds, if the second choice on ballots for candidates being eliminated has already been knocked out, the third choice is counted, and so on. Webber’s win means he got enough first-, second- or third-choice votes to win out.

Videotaping

Another thing that slowed things down Tuesday was the decision to videotape parts of the process, Vigil said. “We felt we needed to have everything on video,” she said. “We videotaped to make sure everything was accountable.”

Maybe an affidavit verifying what was done will suffice next time, she said, but for the first RCV election, video was running when she, the county clerk, the representatives from Dominion, two city attorneys and members of the precinct board watched as results were generated.

Vigil wouldn’t commit to results coming faster for the next city election, in 2020, now that her office has been through its first RCV election. It all comes down to when the memory cards are delivered, she said. Nothing can happen before then.

“It will depend on the timing of the receipt of the memory cards. When we receive those, that’s when we can start doing the algorithm,” she said.

While Vigil has taken heat for results coming in later than usual, she received praise from Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. After the Journal interviewed Vigil, the city’s public information officer forwarded emails, written Thursday, from Toulouse Oliver and County Clerk Geraldine Salazar congratulating her on running a successful RCV election. A newspaper column criticizing Vigil over the late results had been published Thursday morning.

“I was also extremely impressed with how smoothly and quickly you were able to roll out the results on Election Night,” Toulouse Oliver wrote in an email sent to Vigil. “I know that most people do not understand how much goes into getting everything in the door to be able to run a final tally, but I do, and I was amazed at how fast and accurate the reporting was.

“In my opinion, you should be very proud of the good work, and I just wanted you to know that I really thought you did a terrific job.”

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