In the end, the decision was short and its impact was swift. On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied Santa Fe's attempt to overturn a judge's decision that ordered the city to use ranked-choice voting in the upcoming municipal election.
With its two-paragraph order, the state's highest court also put to rest the question of whether the system, which voters approved in a 2008 amendment to the city charter, is a constitutional method of electing representatives: It is.
"Democracy won!" exclaimed attorney Teresa Leger de Fernandez in an email to SFR. She represented four citizens who challenged the city government's decade of delays in rolling out the program.
The 2008 amendment contained language that allowed the city to put off using the new system until the software and voting equipment necessary to conduct a ranked-choice vote were available and affordable. In November, state District Court Judge David Thomson ruled those conditions had been satisfied and the city had the duty to implement ranked-choice voting in the March 6 election.
Thomson also ruled that the city couldn't ask a higher court to put his decision on hold during an appeal. Doing so, the judge reasoned, could allow the city to run out the clock on using the new voting system simply by filing an appeal.
In December, the City Council voted to make preparations for using ranked-choice voting while at the same time asking the Supreme Court to declare the method unconstitutional and not readily available according to the timeline considered by the city government when it decided to once more delay using the new system.
Leger and the plaintiffs argued in their response to the city's petition to the Supreme Court that Santa Fe was cutting off its nose to spite its face by making the constitutionality argument: "… this City Council is challenging its own charter, its own right to self-governance, and an amendment vetted by the City Attorney, proposed unanimously by a previous City Council, and passed by 65 percent of the voters. The New Mexico Constitution's broad grant of authority to home rule municipalities to govern themselves and to determine how they elect their officers defeats this last minute effort to thwart the will of the people."
Tuesday afternoon, city spokesman Matt Ross said Tuesday, "This is a disappointment. We hoped the Supreme Court would clarify the constitutional and separation of powers questions before them. While we have an order, we don't have a written explanation resolving any post-election challenge that may arise."
Ross said voter education efforts would continue, including a session at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center Tuesday evening.