Race to the Finish

Election Day began with brisk turnout and mixed feelings on ranked choice voting

Voters enter the Santa Fe County Fairground on Nov. 2, 2021.

Poll worker Patricia Gurulé followed in her father’s footsteps: He would take Election Day off from work to volunteer at the polls and bring his daughter with him.

“My father was a good example,” Gurulé said, as she directed incoming voters toward check-in stations at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds. She herself has now been volunteering for the last 45 years and, she notes, it’s not always an easy job, but one bolstered by “the enthusiasm of the people.” And while last year’s tense pandemic election involved suiting up in protective gear, perhaps the most frustrating aspect for poll workers, she said, is when people don’t show up.

That wasn’t the case this morning, as a steady stream of cars carrying voters entered the Fairgrounds, greeted by supporters waving and holding banners for District 4 candidate Amanda Chavez; incumbent Mayor Alan Webber; and District 3 challenger Lee Garcia, who is attempting to unseat Councilor Roman “Tiger” Abeyta.

Abeyta showed up himself at the Fairgrounds, carrying donuts for the poll workers. “So far, so good,” Abeyta told SFR, saying of his race: “We didn’t leave any stone unturned. We did everything we possibly could,” and noting that his Southside district’s voters’ concerns had primarily been focused on public safety.

Voters scurried in from the wind and left relatively quickly as well, aided by an efficient set-up and a short ballot.

According to the Secretary of State’s office, 13,453 people in Santa Fe County had cast ballots as of 9 am, including: 10,274 voting early in person; 2,193 voting absentee; and 986 so far on Election Day. Election officials were unable to provide a roundup for just city voters—of which there are approximately 60,000—at press time. Santa Fe County has close to 108,000 registered voters.

On his way in to vote, Ricardo Roybal said he’d be voting for City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler for mayor and didn’t plan to rank the candidates because “I don’t want to give anyone else a chance.” Vigil Coppler had won his vote in part, he said, because he is friends with her parents. As for the city itself: “I’ve been unhappy with the city for years because there’s a lack of interest in basic services.”

Another Vigil Coppler supporter, Damian Lujan, said he was voting for her because “it’s time to get our city back” and he didn’t like the way Webber had handled cultural issues, such as last year’s toppling of the obelisk on the Plaza. He was not planning to rank the candidates.

“I just don’t feel it’s necessary,” Lujan said. “I think: one vote, for one candidate. I’m old school.”

Those who choose not to rank the votes receive a message as they feed their ballots into the machine. As one woman encountered said message, poll worker Bob Anderson explained to her it was just checking to see if she intended to not rank the candidates and, if so, she just had to press a choice to cast her ballot.

Overall, he said, ranked choice voting had appeared to be the only unpopular aspect for voters this year. Many he had encountered said “they just want to vote for one person,” he said, although Anderson noted that the system was easy enough for those voters, too: “If you don’t want to rank, you don’t have to,” he said. “You can just override and cast your ballot.”

Charlotte Dye (Sioux), on the other hand, had voted for Webber, saying she thought he had done “an OK job,” and she didn’t “see how the other two” would do better. (Alexis Martinez Johnson is the third candidate in the race and SFR was unable to find one of her voters this morning at the polls). Specifically, she thought Webber had handled the pandemic well and, while she didn’t think he had necessarily excelled in how he handled the obelisk issue, “I don’t know that the other two would have done better.”

Geno Zamora, who served as city attorney for close to four years (starting in 2010) and as interim city attorney for Webber for three months (and is now in private practice) headed in to vote enthusiastically for Webber. “I had the opportunity to work with him…and he’s inherently thoughtful and innovative,” Zamora said, adding later: “I also know and respect” Vigil Coppler.

Zamora also intended to rank the candidates. “I think the process is important…to make sure there is a majority.” As for the election itself, he said the most important issue was the economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic also had weighed heavily in Angel Avila’s mayoral choice. Avila is an Air Force veteran and social worker who now works with veterans.

“I like how he handled the pandemic,” Avila said of Webber. A District 3 voter, Avila had intended to vote for Lee Garcia, she said, until she received a flyer of him with Vigil Coppler. “That turned it for me,” she said. Her opposition to Vigil Coppler, Avila said, stemmed from learning that she had voted against the city’s mask mandate and had referred to rental properties as “not real homes” (the latter refers to comments Vigil Coppler made during a discussion on affordable housing). “I’m a social worker,” Avila said. “Home is home.”

And then some voters chose not to rank because they said they didn’t know enough about the other candidates. That was the case for Wanda Lobito and Darius Strickler, both Webber voters. “Alan Webber came to our door,” Strickler said. “I didn’t know the other ones,” a sentiment Lobito reiterated: “If I don’t have enough information on the candidates, I don’t want to risk it,” she noted.

Both said they had come to vote largely because of the school bonds. And they’d had a good experience.

“It was easy…and non-intimidating,” Lobito said. “They wanted to make sure we were not intimidated by the process.”

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