Secretary of state plans to include option on November ballot

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AZTEC — The San Juan County Commission is asking New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver not to allow straight-party voting during the general election this year.

The commission unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday evening during its meeting in Aztec.

The resolution came less than a week after Toulouse Oliver announced plans to include a straight-party voting option on the ballots for the November general election.

Toulouse Oliver is running for re-election as a Democrat, and the general election will be held Nov. 6.

“The lateness of that declaration on her part leaves us with a bunch of unanswered questions,” County Attorney Doug Echols said.

Echols said San Juan County has two write-in candidates who are Republican. He said one of the unanswered questions is if people can vote straight Republican and include the write-in candidates in their vote or if they would have to write in the name of the candidate.

County Clerk says straight-party voting could create confusion

Straight-party voting is not a new thing for New Mexico. Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran repealed it in 2012.

County Clerk Tanya Shelby said it created confusion for voters when it was in place. She said when the state did have straight-party voting, people would see the boxes at the top of the ballot and think it was asking about their party affiliation.

She said that could create problems for people who do not want to vote in a certain race. For example, if a voter marked Republican under the straight-ticket option but did not want to cast a ballot in the governor’s race, that ballot would still count as a vote for candidate Steve Pearce.

“If they marked that box at the top and it was a straight-party vote, then it will mark the ballot for that party all the way down with the exception of a choice that they make,” Shelby said.

Voters could mark the box at the top of the ballot and then choose a candidate of a different party in a race down the ballot. For example, a voter could mark the Republican straight-party box and then vote for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham. The rest of the races would count as voting for the Republican candidates, but the vote would be counted for Lujan Grisham.

“I feel that it is my job to educate the voters of San Juan County,” Shelby said.

She said the county has gotten new voting machines since 2012, and she does not know how they will work with straight-party voting.

Supporters say straight-party voting is a matter of accessibility

“Like absentee voting and early voting, straight-party voting gives New Mexicans another option for casting their ballot. Voters can choose to use straight-party voting, if they decide it will work best for them. They can also choose to fill out the ballot for each individual race,” Toulouse Oliver said in a press release while announcing the straight-party voting. “The more options people have, the easier it is for more eligible voters to participate — and participation is the key to our democratic process.”

The option would allow people to mark a bubble at the top of the ballot to vote for all candidates of a single party in a single vote.

San Juan County Democratic Party MP Schildmeyer, who is running for the state House of Representatives District 3 seat, told the commissioners that straight-party voting is a matter of accessibility for people with disabilities or people who speak English as a second or third language. She said it makes it simpler for those people not to have to go through 20 or 30 names and to only have to remember a single name — the party name.

“We had this up until 2012, and it wasn’t real difficult,” Schildmeyer said.

Cedar Hill resident Darci Moss has been a poll worker at the elections for two years. She said she disagrees with straight-party voting. Moss disagreed with Schildmeyer about accessibility.

“Anybody who comes in with a disability, we help,” she said.

She said there are chairs available for people who cannot stand a long time.

Lawsuit filed in New Mexico Supreme Court

The Republican Party, the Libertarian Party, the nonprofit Unite New Mexico and several Libertarian Party candidates have filed a lawsuit against the secretary of state, alleging she does not have the authority to reinstate straight-party voting.

“In the end, it’s going to be up to the Supreme Court,” Commission Chairwoman Margaret McDaniel said.

County Commissioner Jack Fortner made the motion to approve the resolution.

“If they were going to do it, it should have been done about six months ago,” Fortner said.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

 

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