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NM primary election season gets underway

SANTA FE – A recent surge in TV ads and campaign mailers confirms what the calendar suggests – it’s primary election season in New Mexico.

Today marks the last day for New Mexicans to register to vote or change their party affiliation for the June 5 primary, which is essentially a party nomination process run by county clerks statewide.

It’s also the first day for county clerks to begin mailing out absentee ballots to voters who have requested them.

Under New Mexico’s closed primary system, only voters registered with a major political party – the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian parties meet that definition for this year’s cycle – can vote in the primary election.

That means roughly a quarter of the state’s registered voters – 269,934 out of more than 1.2 million – are not allowed to participate because they are affiliated with minor political parties or they declined to state a party affiliation.

Legislative attempts to open New Mexico’s primary election to all registered voters have been unsuccessful, as have lawsuits challenging the current system.

All statewide offices are up for election this year, including governor, lieutenant governor, land commissioner, secretary of state, auditor and treasurer. All 70 state House seats will also be up for election and Democrats currently hold a 38-31 majority in the chamber, with one vacant seat.

Meanwhile, two of New Mexico’s three congressional districts are open races this year, with incumbents Michelle Lujan Grisham and Steve Pearce forgoing re-election bids to run for governor.

U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján is running for re-election, as is U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, a fellow Democrat.

Most of this year’s contested primary races involve Democrats, who hold a numerical advantage over Republicans when it comes to voter registration.

Of the state’s total registered voters, 563,171 were registered as Democrats – about 46 percent – compared with 374,723 registered as Republicans – roughly 29 percent – with the rest either independent or registered with other political parties, as of April 30.

Democratic Party of New Mexico Chairwoman Marg Elliston said having contested primary races is a mixed bag.

“I hate to see us cannibalize our own, and I’d like to see more respect,” she told the Journal before being elected last month as the new party chairwoman. “But there’s a lot of energy, and that’s why I’m optimistic.”