COMMENTARY: Residents of New Mexico have been deceived. Many generations of elected officials and leaders in the Land of Enchantment have circulated a traumatic falsehood. At the state, county, city and every other level we are told to marvel at the cultural diversity in our beautiful state and value the differences in our communities. Many of those leaders reflect that diversity in varying ethnicities, religions, genders and other social identities.
However, those same leaders are responsible for the undermining of genuine political diversity in our state.
For the first time in my life and for only a matter of months I was registered with a major political party last summer. This is because while paying taxes everyday to fund statewide elections in New Mexico, I am only allowed to vote in a statewide primary election if I register with a major political party. Apart from being discriminatory, this system of electing our leaders ensures we continue a dysfunctional marriage to a two-party system.
This insult inflates the membership of major political parties by artificially increasing their voter registrations and means they can solicit funds for their campaigns from voters who don’t actually identify as Democrats or Republicans. These voters then align themselves with candidates who may not represent much of what they believe.
What follows is a chaotic primary election polluted with confusing information. The use of provisional ballots and procedures for voters unaware of the discriminatory nature of these elections facilitates a misuse of public resources, creating thousands of disqualified votes. Accordingly, it then increases the amount of time it takes other voters at the polls.
This is the mechanism of entrenching a polarizing and impoverished two-party system in our state, one that is set up to allow for the oversimplification of discourse by only two political parties that successfully hinders any chance for diversity of political thought. The importance of having a “D” or “R” next to someone’s name and accompanying their political beliefs has led us, and our entire country, to a pathetic and predictable echo chamber of left and right insults and unproductive dialogue. The fear of major political parties to allow citizens to think for themselves and have a robust exchange of diverse ideas continues to destroy chances for real political engagement and voter turnout.
In these elections democracy becomes a cheap imposter where participation simply means partisan motions in a limiting and poor excuse for choice. These damaging effects do New Mexico voters a disservice and insult the traditions of democracy in the world. What good is “participatory government” if an election limits voters to a binary and theatrical system of partisan choices?
Our elected officials are entirely capable of changing this noise but choose to ignore our wasteful and discriminatory primary election. What keeps people from being informed and voting is not simply the confusion of registering or knowing when and where to vote, it is legislative complacency to maintain an unfair system that depresses civic engagement. There is nothing democratic about a discriminatory election that taxpayers are forced to fund — and then be coerced into aligning with cheap political parties.
New Mexico citizens deserve more. We must demand that primary elections are either opened to any registered voter, regardless of party affiliation, or that the major political parties pay for them.
The tired and typical reply from major-party loyalists is that non-members shouldn’t be allowed to sway the outcomes of their elections. This would be a good point, if those parties actually funded them.
They also claim that increased diversity of political thought can lead to difficulty in elected officials working together and finding agreement. Unfortunately that sounds very familiar with the current system. It’s especially important to consider that the most recent United States Congress, one just as beholden to two-party politics, has been the least productive in the history of our nation.
The simple question for major party leadership in our state is why should my tax dollars fund your elections if I’m not a member of your party? Or perhaps, if the platform of your party is representative of New Mexico voters, why wouldn’t you support less partisan ways of promoting civic engagement and really give voters the chance to choose your party?
Democracy has its best outcomes when the most people vote. The cultural diversity in our state allows for a beautiful and democratic filter for corruption and bad ideas. If our elections could better represent the diversity of our communities, then more ideas could be brought to the table to solve problems.
It is only then that you and I can celebrate full cultural diversity, including rich and diverse political identities.
Abraham Sanchez was born and raised in Las Cruces and is employed by Doña Ana County.