NM Legislature may move to open primaries
SANTA FE — New Mexico lawmakers will consider electoral reforms to make it easier for independents to vote in primary elections and to run for state office, amid a steady shift away from major party registration in the state.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers filed proposed legislation and constitutional changes today that would upend New Mexico’s closed primary system that excludes independent voters from major party primaries. One new bill would allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primary elections for a major party of their choice. The two bill sponsors — Republican Rep. Jim Dines of Albuquerque and Democratic Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos — said younger voters in particular are being shut out of the electoral process because they do not identify closely with major parties.
“For me, the issue is access,” Garcia Richard said. “This is a way, I believe, of taking down barriers to access to the ballot.”
A proposed constitutional amendment by Rep. Anothony Maestas, D-Albuquerque, would list all primary candidates on a one common ballot. The top two finishers in races for state office would face off in the general election regardless of party affiliation, in a system modeled after similar system in Nebraska, Washington and California.
If approved by a majority of lawmakers, the amendment would go to a statewide vote in November 2018, with some details on voting procedures left for the Legislature to finalize later.
Another bill introduced today would make it easier for independent candidates to run for office by reducing the number of signatures required on registration petitions to the same level required of Republicans and Democrats. Signature requirements for independents currently are higher because they are based on previous general election turnout, while requirements for Republicans and Democrats are based on previous primary election tallies.
The New Mexico Supreme Court currently is considering a challenge to the state’s closed primary system by Albuquerque attorney and unaffiliated voter David Crum. Crum sued the state and local election officials in 2014 to gain access to primary balloting, arguing that the Legislature overstepped its authority by restricting primary voting to people who declare their party affiliation 28 days before an election.
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