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Measure to open primaries advances

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Voters cast their ballots at Petroglyph Plaza in Albuquerque last year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico would open its primary elections to voters who aren’t affiliated with major parties under legislation that cleared a House committee on Tuesday.

The proposal, House Bill 93, would allow voters who registered with either a minor party or with no party at all to participate in the June elections in which Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians choose their nominees for November general election in the fall.

It passed the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on a 3-2 vote Tuesday, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. The legislation must clear two more committees before reaching the House floor.

Rep. Natalie Figueroa, an Albuquerque Democrat and a co-sponsor of the legislation, said about one-fourth of voters cannot participate in primaries because they aren’t registered with major parties. Opening up the elections to unaffiliated voters, she said, would increase voter participation.

Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, said retirees and military personnel who move to her district from out of state are often shocked to find out they can’t vote in New Mexico primaries.

“If we’re paying taxes, yet we can’t participate, it’s a concern.”

Opponents said no one is really kept from voting. People who want to participate in a primary just have to change their party registration at least 28 days before the primary.

The county clerks association also spoke against the bill, arguing that it would be unfair to give independent voters a choice of which primary to participate in, while Democrats, for example, don’t get to pick and must stick with their own party.

Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, said the legislation would be difficult to administer.

“This will be an absolute nightmare for a county clerk’s office,” she said.

Co-sponsoring House Bill 93 are Democrats Daymon Ely of Corrales and Melanie Stansbury, Joy Garratt and Natalie Figueroa, all of Albuquerque.

New Mexico’s closed primary system also faces a legal challenge. Four registered voters filed a petition with the state Supreme Court in November.

The lawsuit says New Mexico is one of nine states that have closed primaries.

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