GOP leader praises decision while Dem leader is disappointed

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FARMINGTON — The leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties in San Juan County had different reactions to Wednesday's New Mexico Supreme Court ruling that strikes down an effort by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to resurrect straight-party voting in the state for November's general election.

The court ruled that only the state Legislature can restore the straight-party voting option to the ballots. Oliver announced plans in August to implement the straight-party option, but a coalition of political parties, nonprofit groups and individuals filed a court challenge to the move.

San Juan County Republican Party chairman Drew Degner said the Supreme Court decision is excellent news, especially for places like San Juan County. He said the county is facing some critical decisions regarding the energy industry, and voters should look at the individual candidates rather than the political party.

“It should not come down to what party you’re in,” he said.

San Juan County Democratic Party chairwoman MP Schildmeyer said she was disappointed when she read the decision.

“I still believe it is an issue of accessibility,” Schildmeyer said.

She said people who speak English as a second language or who have disabilities would benefit from having the option of straight-party voting.

Schildmeyer said the Legislature should consider bringing back straight-party voting in its session next year. The Bloomfield-area resident is running for a seat in the House of Representatives. She said she would push for straight-party voting if elected.

Schildmeyer is running against incumbent Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec. Bandy is a six-term representative who has sponsored bills like the Local Election Act, which is designed to consolidate elections in an attempt to increase voter turnout.

Toulouse Oliver issues statement in response to court ruling

Toulouse Oliver issued a statement Wednesday evening calling the state Supreme Court's ruling disappointing but saying she will abide by it.

“In light of this decision, I am recommitting myself to working toward expanding voter access to the ballot box and advocating for policies such as same-day voter registration, open primaries, and — potentially — vote at home initiatives, in order to better serve New Mexican voters down the road,” she said in the statement. “I hope that those who have opposed the straight-party option, but at the same time claim to support increased voter accessibility, will work with me to enact these important policies that will help more voters' voices be heard at the polls.”

The coalition that successfully challenged Oliver's effort to bring back the straight-party option included the Republican Party of New Mexico, the Libertarian Party of New Mexico, the nonprofit group Unite New Mexico, Democratic write-in candidate for state House District 46 Heather Nordquist and others.

When the Legislature passed a bill in 2001 to allow electronic ballots, it also repealed the provision in the election laws providing for straight-party voting.

In 2012, then-Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, eliminated straight-party voting in New Mexico.

San Juan County passed a resolution last week asking Toulouse Oliver not to allow straight-party voting, citing concerns about unanswered questions and a short timeline that would have made it hard for the county clerk to educate voters about the issue.

Fewer than 10 states have straight-party voting options

Only a handful of states allow straight-party voting, and several states have recently made efforts to remove the option from their ballots.

Most recently, straight-party voting was eliminated in Michigan following a court battle. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request last week to preserve the option on Michigan ballots.

States that allow straight-party voting include Utah, Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky and Oklahoma. Texas will be eliminating straight-party voting in 2020.

The general election will be held Nov. 6, and early voting in New Mexico starts Oct. 20. The last day to register to vote is Oct. 9. Information about voting and registering to vote can be found at NMVote.org.

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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