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FARMINGTON — The San Juan County Commission placed a last-minute item on its Tuesday agenda – a resolution allowing the county clerk to opt out of Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver's recently-revived Straight-Party Voting option. 

Resolution 18-19-19’s intent is to declare “Opposition to Straight-Party Voting and to encourage the San Juan County Clerk not to allow Straight-Party Voting in the 2018 upcoming General Election,” the agenda states.

County Commission Chairman Pro Tem Jack Fortner said Monday he didn't write the resolution but he thinks that independent candidates, Libertarians and others all deserve consideration on Election Day.

The Straight-Party option encourages block voting for all candidates of one party by filling in one oval on the ballot.

“I never thought Straight-Party Voting was a good idea,” Fortner said. “You want the voters to have the best choice, and that means looking at the candidates.”

The commission meets at 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Commission Chambers, located in the County Administration Building, 100 S. Oliver Drive in Aztec.

Other agenda items include an application for a Homeland Security grant and consideration of a resolution supporting the 2019 Legislative Priorities of the New Mexico Counties.

What is Straight-Party Voting?

The reinstated Straight-Party Voting option was announced recently by New Mexico’s Secretary of State, and immediately drew fire — and a lawsuit from a coalition of individuals and groups that feel the system benefits Democratic Party candidates in particular, and incumbents in general.

The group Unite New Mexico filed a lawsuit Aug. 30 with the New Mexico Supreme Court to block the secretary of state from implementing a process the group said in a press release that the Legislature struck down in 2001. Joining their suit are the Libertarian Party, the state Republican Party, Democratic write-in candidate Heather Nordquist and the Elect-Liberty PAC (Gary Johnson for U.S. Senate).

The Straight-Party process is an option, not a requirement, and can be ignored by voters who want to mark individual votes for people of varying parties.  

About 46 percent of the state’s 1.2 million voters are registered Democrats. About 30 percent are Republicans, according to The Associated Press

“The straight-party option allows a voter to cast a single vote for all partisan candidates of one party – known as a ticket or slate – simply by marking the oval next to that major party’s name at the top of the ballot,” Toulouse Oliver wrote in a recent column for the Albuquerque Journal.

Toulouse Oliver is running as a Democrat on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“You’ll hear some falsely claim that I’m reinstating straight-party voting solely for partisan reasons to help Democrats,” she wrote. “That’s simply not true. The straight-party option makes it easier for those voters who chose to use it to cast their ballot. And I have always, and will always, fight for policies that make it easier to vote – not harder.”

Toulouse Oliver noted that the last time the process was used, “Republican Susana Martinez was elected governor and Republican Duran was elected secretary of state. So claims that straight-party voting helps Democrats simply aren’t true. In fact, reporting shows that Democrats and Republicans use the straight-party option at about the same rate.”

Opponents: It enables lazy voting

Opponents swiftly united, including the nonpartisan advocacy group Unite NM, which seeks to boost third party and independent candidates and cross partisan boundaries.

“As a non-partisan non-profit and experts in campaign and election reform, Unite NM stands strongly opposed to the Secretary of State enabling straight party voting,” the group said in a statement Friday. “In New Mexico it will benefit the Democrats, but in another Republican majority state it would benefit the Republicans and we would oppose it in that situation as well.”

“Who it hurts is obvious: it hurts the independent and minor party candidates who need the voters to remember to vote for them," Bob Perls, co-chair of Unite New Mexico and a former state representative and U.S. foreign service officer, said in the same release. "Saving someone 30 seconds at the ballot box does not improve voter turnout, it just enables lazy voting,”

“The secretary of state is attempting a corrupt partisan power grab that has no support in New Mexico election law,” Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi told the Associated Press last week.

Toulouse Oliver said in her commentary that it’s her right to implement the process.

“New Mexico law gives the secretary of state the explicit authority to decide the format of the paper ballots used in our elections,” she wrote. “It’s this authority that former Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran used in 2012 when she decided to deprive New Mexico voters of this voting option, which had been available for as long as many voters can remember. It’s that exact same authority that I’m using to format the 2018 general election ballot to again include the straight-party option. State law neither bans nor allows straight-party voting.”

Fortner doesn’t think Toulouse Oliver has authority over how San Juan County sets up its local ballots.

“She can format the election, but she can’t set the ballot,” he said.

John R. Moses is the editor of The Farmington Daily Times. He can be reached at (505) 564-4624 or via email at jmoses@daily-times.com.

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