New Mexico Runoff Elections, Measure 3 (2004)

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Constitutional Amendment 3 was on the 2004 ballot in New Mexico as legislatively-referred constitutional amendment, where it was approved.[1]

Election results

Amendment 3
Approveda Yes 419,251 66.1%

Text of measure

Constitutional Amendment 3 proposes to amend Article 7, Section 5 of the constitution of New Mexico to permit municipalities to provide for runoff elections to resolve those elections that do not produce a candidate who has received a statistically significant portion of the vote. The amendment gives effect to provisions of existing municipal charters that provide for runoff elections. The amendment also permits a municipality to adopt a charter containing provisions for runoff elections, to add runoff election rovisions to an existing charter or to provide for runoff elections by ordinance if the municipality has not adopted a charter. Note that while the title of the proposed amendment states that it would allow runoff elections in municipalities with populations greater than twenty thousand, in fact the amendment would allow any municipality to provide for runoff elections, regardless of its population.

Supporting Arguments

1. The proposed constitutional amendment gives all municipalities express authority to provide for runoff elections. Whether by ordinance or by charter, a municipality would have a mechanism to incorporate runoff elections, if desired, into the election law for that community. This approach respects the autonomy of municipalities and leaves the ultimate decision regarding runoff elections with the municipality.

2. Municipal elections are nonpartisan, and any person who can obtain the required number of qualified petition signatures can become a candidate. In some communities, this means that there are often more than two candidates. When more than two popular and fairly well-known candidates run against one another in an election, there is a high probability that no one person will receive a majority of the votes. In fact, two popular candidates could split the vote and a third, less popular candidate could win the election. This process does not ensure that our officials are elected with maximum support so that they can conduct the public business as true representatives of their communities.

3. Under the current election system, a voter will often support one of the top two candidates to avoid wasting a vote on a preferred candidate who has little prospect of prevailing in the primary. Runoff elections, however, give voters an incentive to support their favorite candidate in the first round rather than casting a strategic vote for a front runner. This simplifies the voting process.

4. The green party has become an active force in New Mexico politics. With three "major" parties fielding candidates for office, it is likely that no candidate will obtain a majority of the votes. Therefore, it is wise to have runoff elections in those races where no candidate receives a majority.

5. Elections that have only two candidates are already decided by a very small percentage of the voting age population, and three-way races are decided by even fewer voters. Having a runoff election maximizes the voice of the majority. According to the federal election commission, in New Mexico about 77 percent of the voting age population registers to vote, although in 2000, only 47.4 percent of the voting age population actually turned out for the general election. Therefore, in that election, anyone elected by a simple majority was elected by less than 24 percent of the voting age population. If runoff elections are not permitted, even fewer voters will make the decision of who governs and what policies are supported by government offices.

6. Although this amendment has some limitations, it is a first step in providing for runoff elections, especially in municipal elections where there is a high likelihood that mayoral races and other nonpartisan races will result in a person with less than a majority of the votes being elected.[2]

Opposing Arguments

1. Elections are costly undertakings for municipalities, and runoff elections will increase those costs. Electronic and other enhanced voting mechanisms will require increased expense to maintain the integrity of the runoff elections. Municipalities should keep the current system for deciding elections and not incur the cost of runoff elections.

2. Runoff elections are costly for candidates who must raise funds for two elections instead of one, thereby undermining one of the goals of campaign finance reform. A candidate who exhausts campaign funding in the general election will be in an untenable position in a runoff election.

3. Voter turnout tends to decrease in runoff elections, so the candidate elected might not be the candidate supported by the majority of the populace.

4. Runoff elections might make it difficult for a member of a minority group to be elected in a race where most of the voters are of a different background. A minority candidate might run strongly in the first election, only to lose in the runoff election if the majority votes against the minority candidate.

5. If runoff elections are important, then this amendment to the New Mexico constitution does not go far enough. It does not apply to statewide races for the election of a governor, New Mexico supreme court justice or court of appeals judge, secretary of state, attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer or any other race that is not conducted by district. These are some of the most influential policymakers elected by New Mexicans. These elections could see fields of three candidates or more and the winner could therefore be elected by fewer than 50 percent of the voters. It is illogical that these important offices should be filled by less than a majority of the voters, while other offices are required to have runoff elections.

6. The proposed amendment gives the legislature the task of enacting a law to specify which offices would have runoff elections. However, the wording of the amendment does not require the legislature to enact such a law, so there is no guarantee that legislation providing for runoff elections will be adopted. Even if the legislature did pass a runoff election law, there is no guarantee in this amendment that it would provide for runoff elections in all elections.

7. The proposed amendment's restriction of the legislature's ability to provide for certain runoff elections is a burdensome imposition upon the legislature's power to formulate public policy.[3]

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