What is the first sign of a political party that cares about power instead of people?
Doing anything it can to increase and consolidate that power.
That is exactly what New Mexico Democrats are doing right now.
Earlier this month, candidates and party activists accused New Mexico Democratic Party leadership of rigging their state convention to achieve a predetermined outcome for those candidates running with the party’s blessing. These are the same heavy-handed tactics national Democrats used in 2016 to tip the scales of their presidential primary, alienating and angering millions of grassroots voters along the way.
Now, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has announced that she will be using her office to initiate a brazen and raw power grab. An elected official, sworn to uphold our state laws, will advance a nakedly political maneuver to institute straight-ticket voting that falls outside the boundaries of legality and good government in New Mexico.
When Toulouse Oliver said she would adopt a straight-ticket voting system, every smoke-filled backroom in Santa Fe undoubtedly rejoiced. Straight-ticket voting is a relic of the era when party bosses controlled our political process. It helps political parties gain a stranglehold on power by encouraging voters to cast their votes for every candidate from a single political party by checking one box on the ballot. So much for independent thinking.
New Mexicans should be able to choose their elected leaders based on which candidates advance the best ideas and articulate the clearest vision. Since neither political party has a monopoly on good ideas – or bad ones – elected officials should not discourage voters from supporting the best candidates, regardless of political party, under any circumstance.
Especially not when it falls outside the law.
New Mexico did away with straight-ticket voting in 2001. The Legislature repealed three sections of the Election Code that year, including the only provision in the entire Election Code related to straight-ticket voting. Gov. Gary Johnson signed the repeal into law a short time later.
It took another decade for the Secretary of State’s Office to actually implement the change and abolish straight-ticket voting in accordance with the law. Once it was gone, Democrats made repeated efforts in the Legislature to restore it. These efforts failed, but they were a recognition that straight-ticket voting in New Mexico must be established by law, as it was prior to 2001.
Our current secretary of state seems unconcerned with these critical details. This is hardly surprising considering she recently attempted to use her political authority and her elected position to stack the deck against a Republican running for governor by violating the Constitution and trying to change campaign finance rules midway through an election. A federal court swiftly rejected her blatantly political and legally flawed maneuver.
As a candidate for secretary of state, I’m frustrated by Toulouse Oliver’s willingness to repeatedly abuse her power in order to advance a partisan agenda. As a New Mexican, I’m appalled that her latest political maneuver is intended to take power away from voters and give it to political bosses and party leaders.
The secretary of state’s job description is simple and straightforward: to administer free and fair elections. The office is supposed to referee the partisan battles that take place between political parties, not lead the charge. New Mexicans deserve a secretary of state who will take that duty seriously instead of using the office to score political points.
Toulouse Oliver’s attempt to implement straight-ticket voting is an undemocratic, blatantly partisan, and likely illegal effort to take choice away from voters. Straight-ticket voting has no place in our state.
JoHanna Cox is an attorney and former prosecutor who lives in Albuquerque.