Same-day voter registration isn’t as harebrained as I thought.

Early voting for the primary election in New Mexico begins in just a couple weeks, and county clerks statewide have been prepping for same-day voter registration. If you are a conservative like me, you probably aren’t thrilled at the prospect.

The Secretary of State, Maggie Toulouse-Oliver, held a joint press conference Wednesday with New Mexico Open Elections president and former state Senator Bob Perls on Wednesday that not only put some of my concerns to rest but also offered a first-time opportunity for independent and minor-party voters.

First, the secretary emphasized that previously registered major party voters—Democrats and Republicans—cannot switch their registration on the same day they vote. That puts to rest concerns that partisan voters might change their registrations in the primary to support a weaker candidate from the other party to help their own candidate in the general election.

Second, to register on the day you vote, you must bring a valid photo ID and documentation that shows you are a legal resident of the county in which you want to vote. This is crucial to election integrity.

Here’s the game-changer: independents and minor party voters can request a major party ballot by registering with that party for the day of voting, and then change their registration back afterward. It is not a perfect solution, or as Perls calls it, it’s “a baby step,” but with nearly a quarter of New Mexico voters (24.6%) otherwise left in the cold in a taxpayer-funded primary, I think this is important progress.

I remain a registered Republican, but it bothers me that almost one in four voters in our state can’t vote in a publicly funded primary. Independents (or “decline to state” as they are called in New Mexico) and members of the minor parties left the Democrats and Republicans for a reason. And it’s the youngest voters who are rejecting the major parties.

Independent or DTS voters make up 22.6% of registered voters in the state. That is a number that can change the outcome of any election. If independents vote in primaries, hyper-partisanship recedes, as major party candidates will have to consider the independent bloc as well as the party base.

I think this will give us better choices in the general election. Moving away from partisan orthodoxy to actual debates on the issues facing our state gives us a real look at what candidates bring to the table.

“The greater the diversity of opinion in the primary that occurs, the greater the chances are that candidates and elected officials will listen to a broader range,” said Perls at the press conference. This is badly needed.

Legislation was introduced this session to fully open New Mexico’s primaries. Democrats and Republicans were largely united in their disinterest in hearing the joint memorials, stating that this stopgap solution is good enough. This is wrong.

New Mexico Open Elections, who pushed for the legislation, opted to look at the Secretary of State’s push to publicize the same-day registration to voters unaffiliated with a major party as a victory and work with her to get the word out. This is smart.

DTS voter registration is not going to slack off in New Mexico. DTS registration is growing five times as fast as total voter registration in the state. The Secretary of State, to her credit, has figured this out and worked out the best method under existing law to help them fully participate in our elections.

Only when all voices are heard will we get truly representative government in our state. Our decades-long complaints of one-party rule, endemic corruption and political machines calling the shots are not going to be solved with a quarter of the population shut out of the voting process.

Visit nmvotes.org for information on how to vote in this year’s primary and change your registration back to DTS after the election.

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 news.ind.merritt@gmail.com.

 

DTS and minor-party voters can vote in this year’s primary