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Editorial: Open primaries something Dems, GOP can agree on

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It’s rare in New Mexico when Democrats and Republicans see eye-to-eye on an issue.

So it’s refreshing to see Republican Gov. Susana Martinez support a reasonable plan put forth by two Democrats, Sen. Bill O’Neill and Rep. Emily Kane, that would open up party primaries to independent voters.

O’Neill and Kane plan to introduce legislation in January that would allow voters who decline to state a party affiliation to choose whether to vote in the Democratic or Republican primary, but not in both. Members of a party could not vote in the other party’s primary, which had been a sticking point for many partisans.

The goal is to increase voter participation – only about 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the June primary – and to attract young voters who increasingly don’t want to affiliate with either party.

More than one in five voters in New Mexico declined to state a party when registering to vote. About 38 percent of registered voters ages 18 to 24 fall into that category. And because many candidates in New Mexico face no opposition beyond the primary, the winner is often declared before independents get a chance in weigh in.

In the past both parties have opposed allowing primary voting across party lines over concerns it would dilute party participation and fears that operatives of the opposite party could knock out their strong primary candidates before the general election.

State GOP Party Chairman John Billingsley had said allowing decline-to-state voters to participate in primaries would diminish party values. But after hearing of Martinez’s support for expanded primaries, he said he would evaluate the proposal and reconsider his position.

Martinez’s Democratic general election opponent, Attorney General Gary King, meanwhile, says he supports expanding primary participation to a full open primary, which would let major-party members cross over in primary voting. That concept has far less support. The plan proposed by Kane and O’Neill is the right one as it would give independent voters rights equal to those of party members.

The willingness of major players to consider and perhaps even cooperate on this limited primary reform is good news and could engage more voters – whose taxes help pay for the closed primary elections in which they now can’t vote.

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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