Open Primaries Bill Stalls in House - One Third of Voters Shut Out of Primaries in New Mexico


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Texas is one of 17 states with open primaries, which means regardless of which party voters identify with, they can choose from year to year which party’s nominees they’d like to select in a primary election. Why can't New Mexico?

Is it common for Democrats to participate in the Republican primary, and vice versa?

In short, no. According to Elizabeth Simas, a political science professor at the University of Houston who spoke about this with Texas Standard, cases of strategic voting don’t happen much in primary elections. “Certainly, there are people who do it … but we just don’t see it happening as much as there’s potentially this fear for it to happen,” Simas said.

In areas dominated by one party, especially rural areas, voters might cross party lines in the primary to have more of a say in their local races.

Within the city charter of Alamogordo and that of many cities and counties in New Mexico if you do NOT belong to a party (Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, Green) you are not allowed to be appointed to a board or a commission. If a voter is registered as an "Independent" or "Declines to State" they are left out of much of the Democratic Process in the State of New Mexico and cannot participate in a primary. Yet New Mexico proposes many pieces of legislation to ensure "voting integrity." That idea is a joke when 1/3 or its citizens are left out of the process of appointment to boards and commissions and cannot participate in primaries.

In 2023, nearly a quarter of New Mexico voters are declining to declare a political party. That’s more than 325,000 New Mexicans who cannot participate in primary elections unless they join a political party. Being forced to join a party is similar to the workplace when one is forced to join a union. Conservatives fight the idea of forced indoctrination into a union thus why is one forced to join a party to participate in a primary?

The system of government in New Mexico is created to allow the 2 major parties to monopolize the power structure. It begins with the primaries. About 1/3 of the registered voters and a growing number of registered voters decline to state or are independent. As such they are denied the right to participate in primaries. States with open primaries have a larger voter turnout.

The seated political leaders of the New Mexico State Legislature are determined to maintain this power and not allow the influence of independents or those who decline to state. This is a travesty to those that argue for fair and open elections. 

Multiple election reforms bolls are alive in the Legislature, and several have passed. The one that matters the bill to allow voters to participate in primaries without declaring allegiance to a political party which is stalled in the House.  The citizens of Otero County, Alamogordo and the state of New Mexico deserve better. Pressure needs to be applied to Representative John Block and the other members of the legislature to pass this bill. Mr. Block ran an election discussing election integrity and he would push for "term limits."  There has not been an ounce of support by Mr. Block for open primaries and no movement or effort on term limits. This was nothing more than pandering and contuinues to be pandering, no real change.

Senate Bill 73, sponsored by state Sens. Bill O’Neill and Siah Correa Hemphill and state Rep. Dayan Hochman-Vigil would allow decline-to-state and minor-party registered voters to participate in primary elections — and they would not have to change their registration to do so.

This matters because an increasing number of voters in the state are declaring independence from political parties. Such decline-to-state voters can’t participate in primary elections without affiliating with a party.

Because many races are decided in June when primaries take place as there is no real opposition candidate, these voters have little voice in how they are governed. Otero County is a prime example if one is not chosen by the machine, one will not be elected to office. It's not about representing the people it's about maintain the status quo of power. 

In Santa Fe, many Democratic candidates — whether for sheriff, county commissioner or magistrate — lack a Republican opponent come November. The same is true for Republican candidates running in Curry or Otero counties. Few Democrats and no independents oppose them.

Forcing people to declare an affiliation, is, as open primary advocate Bob Perls says, an invasion of privacy. A vote is a private matter. If a citizen does not want his or her party preference known, that should not preclude participation in the electoral process. Perls, a former state representative, is the founder of New Mexico Open Elections. His group is dedicated to what they term a radical idea: “No New Mexican should be required to join a political party to fully and fairly exercise their right to vote.”

The open primary bill still alive in the Legislature has made it through the Senate and one House committee.

The bill is stuck in the House Judiciary Committee, where its chairwoman, Rep. Christine Chandler, D-Los Alamos, has not scheduled a hearing. Time, as we know, is running out. The session ends Saturday.

The Senate bill deserves to be heard this session.

Open primaries are a way to increase voter participation and reduce extremism in both politics and governance.  These primaries, by the way, while restricted to party members, are paid for by all taxpayers. That hardly seems fair.

Yes, New Mexico voters now have the option of declaring a party preference when they go to vote and then reverting to an unaffiliated status after. But in a state dedicated to making it easier for all voters to participate, forcing unaffiliated citizens to jump through hoops is wrong.

Increasing participation in voting will only strengthen our electoral system, restoring trust in the political process and ensuring that the men and women who win office have the backing of a majority of citizens, not just primary voters.

Call and email John Block and all the house members and let's et this historic legislation passed and signed into law this session of 2023.

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