A proposed constitutional amendment to allow all registered voters to vote in major-party primary elections advanced Saturday when one Republican sided with Democrats.
Members of the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted 5-3 for the bill. The committee chairman, Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, broke ranks to move the proposal forward.
Currently, only people who are registered as Democrats or Republicans can vote in the state’s major primaries. The constitutional amendment sponsored by Democratic Reps. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque and Stephanie Garcia Richard of Los Alamos would change that.
Maestas said in an interview that the exact system for allowing independents and members of minor political parties to vote in Democratic or Republican primaries would have to be worked out through enabling legislation. That would occur if the proposed constitutional amendment is approved by both houses of the Legislature and then by the voters in November.
One possibility is that registered voters who are not members of either major party could request either a Republican or Democratic ballot on primary election day.
Democrats in New Mexico have a sizable registration advantage over Republicans, 46 percent to 31 percent, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. Another 19 percent of voters have declined to state a preference for a political party, and 3 percent belong to minor parties.
That means more than 1 in every 5 voters cannot currently vote in a major-party primary. Garcia Richard said an open primary system would increase interest in government.
“Young people are frustrated with the political gridlock that has been rampant for many years, and we as elected officials must do more to get them involved,” Garcia Richard said in a statement.
Her bill would have died Saturday without support from Smith, a retired teacher. Without Smith’s vote, it would have stalled in the committee on a tie vote.
Maestas and Garcia Richard will next present their bill to the House Judiciary Committee.