SANTA FE – Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver hopes to bring back straight party voting – possibly as soon as November – which would allow voters to check a single box to vote for a major party’s entire slate of candidates.
However, critics of straight party voting say the practice gives an unfair advantage to major party candidates – especially Democrats – over those who are independent or affiliated with minor parties.
And state Republican Party officials have indicated that they might pursue a court challenge if straight party voting is enacted.
A Secretary of State’s Office spokesman said Toulouse Oliver intends to hold public hearings before implementing straight party voting, and it’s unclear whether that will happen in time for the Nov. 6 general election. But he insisted that state law gives the secretary of state the authority to unilaterally reimpose the voting option.
“There is nothing in state statute that would prohibit the secretary from restoring straight party voting,” spokesman Joey Keefe told the Journal.
“Straight ticket voting is an underhanded and potentially illegal power grab by an elected official who is supposed to referee partisan battles, not lead the charge,” state GOP Executive Director Ryan Gleason said. “Democrats are pursuing monolithic one-party control of every elected office in New Mexico and will openly undermine our democracy to get it.”
Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, eliminated straight party voting in 2012, saying the state election code did not specifically allow the practice. Several bills were subsequently proposed in the Legislature to authorize it, but none was signed into law.
Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who was elected in 2016, vowed on the campaign trail to bring back the straight-ticket voting option and has said she intends to make good on the promise.
The Secretary of State’s Office says the voting option has several benefits, including reducing wait times at polling places and allowing voters to cast their ballots more quickly.
“Implementing straight-party voting is about increasing access to the ballot for New Mexico’s voters,” Keefe said Friday. “Ballots can be long and complicated, and straight party voting makes it easier for the elderly and disabled to complete their ballots.”
In addition, the Secretary of State’s Office says, voters who elect to use the straight party option can still vote for a candidate from a different political party in any given race – and have that vote counted accordingly.
But even some registered Democrats are wary of restoring straight party voting.
Rick Lass, who lives near Mimbres, called the practice discriminatory, because it offers voters two ways to vote for major party candidates, compared with just one way for independent candidates.
Lass, who used to live in Santa Fe, ran as a Green Party candidate for a Public Regulation Commission seat in 2008. He said he believes the race’s outcome was affected by Democrats casting straight party votes that benefited his opponent, former Public Regulation Commissioner Jerome Block Jr., who won the general election with about 57 percent of the votes cast in the race.
“It’s sort of a power play by the Democratic Party to get free votes for their candidates down the ballot,” Lass told the Journal.
Overall, more than 1.2 million New Mexicans were registered to vote earlier this month, and Democrats hold a decisive edge in numbers.
There were 560,903 Democrats – or about 46 percent of the state’s registered voters – compared with 372,755 Republicans – roughly 29 percent of voters – and 7,858 Libertarians, who also have major party status for this year’s election cycle.
Voters who declined to state their political affiliation or are affiliated with minor political parties made up the remaining 25 percent of New Mexico voters – about 280,000 people fit into that category.