The short legislative sessions in even-numbered years are always a challenge: meant primarily to pass a budget, the business of the state does not stop until the next odd-numbered year. New legislation may only be introduced if “germane”; that is, on the same topics as those on the governor’s “call.”
So far, the prospects for the governor’s agenda appear uncertain. Not unlike Congressional Democrats with President Biden, the Democratic caucus in the Legislature seems to be giving Gov. Lujan Grisham’s executive agenda mixed reviews. The Social Security tax cut barely made it out of its first committee. The crime package is stalling as one bill has been pulled for revision, and the other voted down in committee. The election reform package has yet to reach the hearing stage.
But I would like to steer your attention to House Joint Resolution 5 / Senate Joint Resolution 4. These identical bills would amend the New Mexico Constitution to allow independent (or “decline to state” as they are called here) voters to vote in primary elections. Currently, more than 300,000 New Mexican voters choose not to belong to a major political party. And they are unable to vote in primaries.
If this legislation passes, the question will be put to voters in the November elections, as all Constitutional amendment questions are.
This change to our elections would do more to improve election access and voting rights than anything currently in the joint election reform package brought by the governor and secretary of state to the Legislature. Increasing primary election access to 300,000 registered voters— 22% of the total in our state—is a tremendous step forward for voting rights in New Mexico.
Most importantly, it ensures full access to the democratic process for all registered voters in our taxpayer-funded elections. The open primaries legislation includes a provision that if any major party wishes to hold a closed primary, that is, only for members of its own party, it may do so. But a closed primary must be paid for by the party holding the closed primary. This is only fair. Independent voters are taxpayers, too.
Open primaries will not change current party pre-primary conventions or activities. They do not result in “gaming” the opposition’s primary slate. Veterans and Hispanics are among the largest groups of independent voters and important voices in our nation and our state. Open primaries have higher rates of voter participation, period. Isn’t that the goal here?
A recent article in The Economist showed that the election reforms espoused by the major parties are generally not as diabolical as the opposition purports. Voter ID does not disenfranchise thousands. Mail-in voting does not generate widespread fraud. Securing our elections while ensuring maximum participation are laudable goals worth pursuing. So why not also acknowledge the most significant trend in voter behavior—independent registration—and give them a voice in our primaries?
Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.