COMMENTARY: In New Mexico, 19 percent of registered voters – including me – decline to join any political party. Another 3 percent register with a party label other than Democrat or Republican.
Independents and minor-party members added up to 272,301 New Mexicans as of April 29, the most recent statistics on voter registration available online.
Even though our tax dollars help pay for New Mexico’s upcoming June 7 Democratic and Republican primaries, those of us who don’t join those parties aren’t allowed to vote in the primaries.
It’s another way our election system disenfranchises people.
I understand the argument against open primaries. Why should people not affiliated with a party get a say in which candidates it places on the general election ballot?
In response, I’d ask why my tax dollars pay for Democrats and Republicans to decide which candidates they put on the ballot.
Many of our legislative, county commission, and other races are decided in primaries, so elections are long over before hundreds of thousands of New Mexico voters are allowed a say in who represents them.
For example, two people are challenging incumbent Sen. George Muñoz of Gallup in the upcoming Democratic primary, but there’s no Republican in that race. Former Sen. Shannon Robinson is challenging Sen. Mimi Stewart of Albuquerque in that Democratic primary. The winner is unopposed in November.
State Rep. Christine Trujillo of Albuquerque is facing a Democratic primary challenge from Chris Berkheimer – but there’s also no Republican in that race. The same is true for state Rep. Bealquin “Bill” Gomez of La Mesa, who is in a tough Democratic primary battle against two others. Without a Republican in the race, the winner of the primary will represent District 34 in the state House in 2017 and 2018.
There are significant ideological and other differences between many of these candidates. The primaries are immensely important.
There’s been lots of debate recently about whether New Mexico should open its primaries to all voters. There’s even a group, New Mexico Open Primaries, formed to push for this change.
The nonprofit organization Common Cause New Mexico has endorsed open primaries, with its executive director Viki Harrison writing in a recent commentary that the number of voters refusing to register as Democrats or Republicans “has grown dramatically in the past decade as gridlock and partisan fighting has turned off voters by the truckload, especially young ones.”
The percentage of voters registering as something other than Democrat or Republican has doubled in New Mexico since 1996, when 9 percent declined to state a party and two percent registered with parties other than Democratic or Republican.
About 20 states currently have open primaries for presidential and congressional races. A proposed constitutional amendment to let New Mexico voters decide whether to open our state’s primaries died in this year’s legislative session.
I don’t have a strong opinion on whether New Mexico’s primaries should be open to all voters. But if we’re going to continue with closed primaries, I believe the parties, not taxpayers, should foot the bill.
The primaries should either be paid for with public money and open to all voters, or they should be closed party processes funded exclusively by Democrats and Republicans.