The end was near, and there were people holding signs on street corners as testament.

After a campaign with its origins in the sugary-drink tax election last May, five anxious mayoral candidates waited until the final hour of election day to learn their fate. And it was a doozy.

Santa Fe's first ranked-choice election went four rounds, with Alan Webber taking the victory over Ron Trujillo after the second-place choices from Kate Noble's voters left him with 66 percent of the vote. Trujillo finished with just less than 34 percent. Peter Ives was eliminated in the first round, followed by Joe Maestas and then Noble.

"I feel like being elected mayor of Santa Fe is the greatest honor of my life. I am incredibly grateful," Webber told SFR just after midnight.

As a full-time mayor, Webber will earn $110,000 annually, plus health benefits and a public pension.

Trujillo spent election night with supporters at PC's Lounge on the Southside. He will exit the governing body next week, and said after the results he was interested in taking a deep dive into the election statistics to determine how many voters actually ranked each candidate.

"I have no regrets," Trujillo said. "We ran a tough race on $60,000."

Lines for Santa Fe's first ranked-choice voting election weren't apocalyptic, but turnout was brisk, blowing past the raw numbers in the May special election that pulled nearly 38 percent of registered voters. This time, 20,604 people voted for mayor, for an unofficial turnout of 38 percent. There are 54,155 registered voters in the city, according to the Santa Fe County Clerk's Office. Some 1,100 more people have registered to vote since May.

All five candidates spent the day holding signs, making phone calls and taking care of the staff and volunteers who got them to election day.

Mayoral candidate Peter Ives made the rounds to each of the dozen voting convenience centers.

"I'm the water guy, the granola bar guy and the orange slice guy," he laughed.

The District 2 city councilor has two years left in his term and will remain a member of the governing body, despite the fact that he was the first mayoral candidate to be exhausted and have his votes redistributed in the ranked-choice method. To him, ranked-choice voting kept things civil, though it didn't make a difference in how he campaigned personally.

"I'm running against four people I consider to be my friends," he explains. That fact, rather than the new voting system, drove his campaign. "I think people deserve better than [vitriolic campaigning], quite frankly."

Joseph Maestas, who gave up his District 2 seat to run for mayor, was having lunch with seniors at the Mary Esther Gonzales Senior Center on Alto Street after a morning of standing at polling places with volunteers.

"This is the hallmark of our democracy, when the voters speak. There's no second-guessing how they speak with their votes," Maestas told SFR.

A onetime mayor of Española, Maestas tried to cut a pragmatic line across City Council districts as a path to victory. He was open about asking for a second-place ranking from voters and said he felt as though he was on a lot of Alan Webber and Kate Noble ballots as a second choice. The problem was, he needed one of them eliminated and a series of voting rounds, not just one, to have a chance.
“I’m almost banking on the Southside showing up,” he said, adding that he was disheartened by low turnout from District 3 in early voting numbers. “I really feel like the Southside represents me and Ron Trujillo well.”

That district has half the number of registered voters as districts on the north and east side. Even a strong finish there couldn't propel Maestas forward as he became the second to go.

Candidates spent a lot of time and money trying to glean the best strategy as it became increasingly likely that it would take at least two rounds of voting to claim victory. Ives had lagged in campaign finance totals and seemed likely to be the first one out of the mix.

"I think it'll be at least two, maybe three, and I haven't ruled four out," Noble told SFR while taking a break from a get-out-the-vote calling party at Rockin' Rollers skating rink on Agua Fría.

Despite a pricey ante to enter the mayor's race—public financing pegs the spending level at $60,000, and all but Ives raised at least that much—only Alan Webber did any internal voter polling. There was no public poll, either. Most were guessing at what an effective strategy might be.

Webber, whose $311,000 in fundraising torched previous records, was also burdening himself for campaign volunteers.

"My daughter came in for the campaign," he told SFR as the wind howled past his phone outside a polling place. "We have a bag of breakfast burritos and a big box of hot coffee and we're out supporting sign-carriers. … Bacon and green or egg and red."

Webber, too, felt voters were engaged throughout the campaign. In part, he thinks that's because the discourse was civil and candidates were focused on listening.

"As an individual, what campaigns are all about are the people you met and the voices you heard on the campaign trail. You keep those forever," he said.

Like Maestas, he spent time thinking about the ranked-choice strategy, though he was less willing to share it: "I'd tell you, but I'd have to kill you." In general, he says he tried not to make too many changes to his campaign and focused on running a race with which he felt comfortable.

Santa Fe's first ranked-choice election was forced by a group of voters who sued the city, arguing that the caveats allowed by voters when they approved the new system in 2008 had been met last summer. The amendment to the city charter allowed the council to hold off on using ranked-choice voting until the software became available at an affordable price.

Santa Fe will pay between $30,000 and $40,000 for assistance from Dominion Voting Systems during this election.

"The best way I can put it," state District Court Judge David Thomson told a courtroom when he announced his decision in November, "is that [the charter amendment] does not make room for anxiety."

The city still tried to challenge the new system, however, as the city attorney's office appealed Thomson's decision to the state Supreme Court, arguing that ranked-choice voting was actually unconstitutional. The court refused to hear oral arguments and rejected the city's petition.