Candidates running for office without the protective flag of the Republican and Democratic parties are on the rise in New Mexico, with at least two seeking elected positions in the Tricounty.
“In order to qualify as a major political party that party must garner at least 5 percent of the vote for governor or president, depending on what was on top of the ballot,” explained Joey Keefe, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s office.
Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson ran for president as a Libertarian in 2016, and picked up 9 percent of the vote, Keefe said. Libertarians are on the ballot in significant numbers as a result.
There are also candidates running without party affiliation, those voters who fill out “Decline to State,” or DTS, on voter registration forms. These voters and candidates often refer to themselves as independent, in contrast to the Independent political party.
Running for the state Legislature in District 50, which encompasses part of Edgewood and Moriarty and most of Torrance County, as well as Placitas and Belen, is Jarratt Applewhite, who said he is eager to face off against incumbent Matthew McQueen for the position in the general election; there is no Republican in the race, and McQueen has no challenge from his fellow Democrats, either.
“On a very basic level I think our democracy suffers from too little competition and too little choice, and anything that can be done to encourage more people to run for office and more people to participate as voters is a good thing,” Applewhite said when asked why he was running for office without party affiliation.
Applewhite said as a percentage, New Mexico runs more unopposed races than any other state in the nation.
To run as a minor party candidate, for example the Green Party, or as an unaffiliated candidate entails a different set of rules; those candidates must collect signatures from registered voters as a percentage of the total number of voters in the last election.
A Democrat or Republican could get on the ballot the same way, but has a much smaller percentage requirements to do so.
Citing statistics from ballot-access.org, Applewhite said that in the past 38 years, there have been some 5,000 state elections “and only 16 unaffiliated candidates.”
The current breakdown of voter registration statewide, according to the Secretary of State, breaks down as follows: 561,505 voters are registered Democrat; 373,439 voters are registered Republican; 267,693 voters are registered DTS; 7,940 voters are registered Libertarian and 4,074 voters are registered in the Green Party.
Keefe said there are six candidates that filed for office as Libertarians in national races like those for Congress. In Congressional District 1, for example, Lloyd J. Princeton is running as a Libertarian. Aubrey Dunn, a longtime Republican and current state land commissioner, is running for U.S. Senate as a Libertarian.
There is a Libertarian candidate for Bernalillo County Commission’s District 5, which includes the East Mountains; for Attorney General, in which the general election will see a three-way race; for Secretary of State and for public lands commissioner.
Bernalillo County has 188,248 Democrats, 117,077 Republicans and 96,388 DTS, along with 3,106 Libertarians and 1,747 Greens.
Santa Fe County has 61,023 Democrats, 14,948 Republicans and 18,939 unaffiliated voters; it also has 548 Greens and 484 Libertarians.
Torrance County has 4,237 Republicans, 3,221 Democrats, 1,928 DTS, 60 Libertarians and 37 Greens.
Mike Anaya has run for office previously as a Democrat, but opted this time around to run without party affiliation in pursuit of the Santa Fe County Commission District 3 seat he has held before; currently that position is held by his brother Robert.
“When I represented the county as a county commissioner, I represented the interests of all the people,” Anaya explained when asked why he was running outside the party he had belonged to. “It didn’t matter to me if you were Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian or the green party—it was representing the people. And the work of the county is non-partisan, and it’s people based. It’s not party based.”
Anaya said he wanted to get outside party politics. He said he thinks county races should be non-partisan, the way municipal elections are, in which “anybody can jump into the race.”
“The other reason I’m running as an independent is because I blame the incredible and sad devastation of my democracy on the conduct of the major parties,” Applewhite said. “I blame them for the hyper-partisan gridlock that goes on and results in almost no progress. … The parties have become so extreme, and the parties have abandoned their moderates and are incapable of the kind of civil dialogue that used to characterize the way our government worked.”
Party politics are “a big issue,” Anaya said. “If there’s a good idea and it comes from the Democrats or the Republicans, right away the other party is against it. It’s not good for the people and it’s not good for the country. People are frustrated.”
Anaya conceded that not entering a race against three other Democrats seeking the county commission seat, instead running against whichever Democrat comes out on top in the general election, was also a factor in his decision.
Applewhite said if he is elected, he will be the first person in New Mexico’s history to be seated in the state Legislature without party affiliation. “I would have an impact by showing it can be done,” he said. “I would have an impact by showing that the electorate is sick to death of finger pointing, the influence of money, and the way the major parties conduct themselves.”
He said he is in favor of open primaries, in which all voters could cast ballots regardless of party affiliation. “A growing percentage of the electorate are totally disenfranchised. … It’s just party loyalists and insiders who vote in [primaries]. That’s the reason the parties have become so extreme.”
In New Mexico, that percentage is 22 percent of registered voters. In Bernalillo County, it is 24 percent; in Santa Fe and Torrance counties 20 percent of all registered voters are unaffiliated.