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Editorial: Legislature should level independents’ playing field

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When more than 20 percent of registered New Mexico voters – one in five, around 241,000 – decline to pick a political party, does it make for sound public policy to:

• Bar them from the primaries their taxes pay for?

• Require like-minded candidates to gather more signatures than their Democratic and Republican competitors to get on a ballot?

The answers are no and no. Yet because the New Mexico Legislature has been populated by political-party animals, it appears voters – especially young ones age 18 to 24 – will have to rely on the courts for equity.

New Mexico remains one of 11 states that cling to closed primaries, disenfranchising “Decline to State” voters even though Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution states “all elections shall be free and equal.” Almost 40 percent of the New Mexico’s youngest voters, the future of the state, register as DTS and in doing so are relegated to the sidelines during primaries, when many races are decided. Giving DTSs the chance to vote in one party primary or the other won’t cripple the party system.

Albuquerque lawyer J. Edward Hollington has filed suit to change the fact “the basic right to vote, one of the most important rights we have in a democracy, is unconstitutionally denied to a large number of voters in the state.”

Meanwhile, state law requires would-be candidates to turn in signatures based on a percentage of voters in previous elections. Any answer as to why that percentage would vary depending on which party a candidate represents has no basis in fairness. State Public Education Commission member Tyson Parker has filed a federal lawsuit stating just that. He didn’t make the ballot because as an independent he had to gather more than four times the number of petition signatures as a D or R candidate – 2,196 compared to fewer than 500.

According to the most recent voter data compiled by Research & Polling Inc., not only a majority of the state’s youngest voters, but 32 percent of those age 25 to 34, 23 percent of those age 35 to 49, 17 percent of those age 50 to 64 and 12 percent of those 65 and over are not allowed to cast ballots on primary election days.

New Mexico’s closed primaries and inequitable petition requirements mean a wide swath of the voting public is not represented in voting booths, and likely not on ballots either. As these cases make their ways through the courts, the 2015 Legislature should make them moot and finally amend the laws to bring fairness to independent voters and candidates alike.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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