Editorial: Secretary of state’s straight-party voting banks on uninformed electorate - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Secretary of state’s straight-party voting banks on uninformed electorate

We get it. Few people, if any, take the time to read pages and pages of fine print. From the boilerplate on credit-card agreements to seemingly endless terms and conditions on the latest downloaded app, there are many things most of us simply check the box on and move on.

But voting should never be one of them.

Voting is not just a right or a privilege – it is a responsibility to our democracy. It is how we as Americans keep Abraham Lincoln’s “government of the people, by the people, for the people” alive 155 years after the Gettysburg Address. It is ensured for all citizens regardless of race or gender in the 15th and 19th amendments, respectively, to the U.S. Constitution.

Citizens of other nations wait in line for hours to cast a ballot that we, as Americans, take for granted multiple times a year, be it for school, municipal, primary or general election days.

And yet some would like to reduce this quintessentially American exercise in democracy, this casting of a ballot, to checking one box for political expedience.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is in that camp. On Wednesday she announced she is bringing back a vestige of back-room party politics – straight-party voting – under the guise it gives more options to voters. On Friday she defended it.

How, exactly, does checking one box that has you pledge allegiance to a single political party’s ideology – and thus a single political party’s slate of candidates – constitute “options?” Toulouse Oliver might try to wax poetic about busy single mothers, elderly voters and those with disabilities suddenly being able to cast a ballot because, well, now it’s fast and “easy,” and voters can always go down the ballot to change individual races, and candidates of each major party have won under straight-party voting.

But the fact remains straight-party voting benefits only political party leaders who want to marginalize voters to the right or the left, who don’t want voters to weigh candidates and issues on their merits, who are banking on voters putting all their ballot eggs in the basket of whomever they like at the top of the ticket.

They want voters to be content to let a political party essentially say “I’m from the government, trust me to make your decisions for you.”

As if the fundamental change isn’t dubious enough, consider Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, made her move public just two months before the Nov. 6 general election and less than a week before the deadline to finalize the ballot.

Thankfully, New Mexicans of all political stripes immediately called shenanigans.

State Republican Party Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi said the change is politically driven and “straight-ticket voting is an attempt to rig the system in favor of Democrats and turn New Mexico into a one-party state.” Republican candidate for governor U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce called it an attack on democracy.

State Libertarian Party Chairman Chris Luchini called reinstatement of straight-ticket voting “naked partisanship.” Libertarian U.S. Senate candidate Gary Johnson described it as a “worn-out staple of major-party incumbents.” (As governor he signed legislation in 2001 repealing a law providing for straight-party voting, though it was still offered to voters through the 2010 general election. In 2012 then-Secretary of State Dianna Duran did away with it, saying nothing in the state election code allowed it.)

And state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, tweeted Wednesday straight-ticket voting would provide a “partisan advantage in low-information elections.”

It’s more than disappointing Toulouse Oliver is trying to take New Mexico backward on this issue. And before party hacks cry foul on this criticism and quantify it as “the conservative Journal Editorial Board picking on a Democrat,” remember that the Journal has endorsed Toulouse Oliver more than once – including in 2008 for Bernalillo County clerk and 2016 for her current statewide office. For more than a decade she made the elections in the state’s most populous county run faster and smoother than her predecessors.

She is usually very data- and detail-driven, so it is baffling that she is ignoring that the New Mexico Legislature abolished straight-ticket voting in 2001 and has since refused to reinstate it. That only nine states still use it – and Texas is dropping it effective in 2020. And that straight-party voting too often benefits down-ballot candidates who ride the party coattails while hurting important nonpartisan down-ballot races where voters don’t bother to weigh in, such as judicial retention, bond questions, constitutional amendments and the like.

Late Thursday, the New Mexico Republican and Libertarian parties, nonprofit Unite New Mexico, Elect Liberty PAC and Santa Fe Democrat and write-in candidate Heather Nordquist filed a petition with the Supreme Court to bar the straight party voting option for the Nov. 6 election. Justices have ordered the secretary of state to file a response by Friday, which is three days after the state law deadline to modify this year’s ballot.

We hope members of the state’s highest court will agree it is not too much to ask voters to think about qualifications before they fill in a circle determining who will set their utility rates (Public Regulation Commission races); who will be the arbiter of jail sentences and court judgments (judicial races); who balances the state’s needs with their tax dollars (legislative races); and how much they should be taxed (gross receipts tax increases and mill levies).

Because when it comes to your individual right, privilege and responsibility to vote, when it comes to moving New Mexico forward, checking a box so someone else makes your decisions for you just isn’t democracy.

And it moves New Mexico backward.

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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