If the city were divided into true districts, with candidates having to live in the district they are running for, elected by voters living in those districts, the election would reflect the people’s choice, at least in those districts, possibly allowing for differing views, reflecting a diverse voting population.
However, the City has five separate seats that do not correspond to a geographic area and all the candidates represent the whole city, being at-large candidates. Each voter gets to vote for whom they want for each open seat.
This is a rare form of election. The National League of Cities, Wikipedia and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s 2011 “Voting Methods,” described numerous voting systems, but none were like Truth or Consequences’ system.
In the Truth or Consequences system this might happen: Imagine there are three seats open on the city commission, as is the case for the upcoming March 5, 2020 election. The last regular election had nearly 800 voters. Assume there is a very strong political group with many members who agree to vote as a block and to put up candidates for each seat.
The City’s seats divide the votes into distinct blocks, allowing one faction to put up a candidate for each position and to put him or her in office, and to keep them in office for years, since there are no term limits. Wikipedia calls this “cloning” candidates.
Imagine the first seat has one candidate running unopposed, who wins automatically before the first vote is cast under the City’s current system. Imagine the second seat has two opposing candidates. The political group can garner 401 votes, and it puts their candidate in office. Imagine the third seat has three opposing candidates. The political group easily puts their candidate in office because it only needs 266 votes to edge out the other two candidates.
A common form of voting, according to Wikipedia, is “plurality voting,” which also combines district and at-large-candidates, akin to Truth or Consequences system, but it is somewhat fairer. Now imagine the same six candidates are running for three open seats. The voter has to choose their top three favorites, with all the candidates running against each other. The political group would be facing greater competition.
In this scenario, no unopposed candidate wins automatically, everyone must compete.
According to Wikipedia and Stanford, the political group would probably not prevail completely unless it put up the number of candidates corresponding to the proportion of votes it can garner. Otherwise it splits the vote among its own candidates. In the imagined case, the political group can only wield 401 or half the votes, enough to fill 1.5 seats. Therefore it is likely the third seat will be filled by a minority-view faction and there is a 50-50 chance the same or a different minority-view faction fills the second seat.
Wikipedia and Stanford also state that “limited voting” allows even more minority-view candidates to be elected, further dampening a majority-faction’s voice and therefore better reflecting a diverse population on governing boards.
In limited voting, if there are three seats open, the voter is allowed one or two votes, and again, all candidates run against each other. Fewer votes are needed for a candidate to rise to the top.
There is nothing in Truth or Consequences’ local laws that addresses or lays out the form of voting it is using.
State law does not address the issue either, stating only that cities with a population over 10,000 with a City Manager/Commission form of government “shall” or must be divided into five districts, with candidates living in the district and voted in by those living in the district. Cities with a population under 10,000 “may” be divided into districts, the law says.
Truth or Consequences has about 5,900 residents. The New Mexico Municipal League defines Truth or Consequences’ city manager/commission form of government as being one divided into districts, even though it isn’t and it doesn’t adhere to district voting. New Mexico Municipal League Attorney Randy Van Vleck pointed out “district” isn’t defined in the municipal state law, although it is defined under county state law.
The state changed the law on the city manager/commission form of government. Before 1985 it said, “A commissioner shall [must] be elected for each district, but shall [must] be voted on at large.” This may explain how the city arrived at its current form of elections. It appears the state instituted it before 1985.
There is a remedy, if the citizens want to change the voting system. Citizens in a city manager/commission form of government have more power than in some other forms of municipal government.
The residents may draft a “measure” to be passed as an ordinance or new local law. The measure must be approved by 20 percent of the voters. The number of signatures required is the 20 percent average over the last four regular elections or 20 percent of voters in the last regular election, whichever number is greater.
If the petition succeeds, within 30 days after the petition is certified by the city clerk, the commission must decide what it will do. If it doesn’t pass the new ordinance, if it “fails to act,” “acts adversely,” or “amends the proposed measure,” the commission must pass a resolution calling for a special election “within 10 days of the 30-day expiration.”
If the commission puts forth an amended ordinance, both the petitioners’ and the commission’s ordinance must appear on the ballot, with “for” and “against” checkboxes written after each.