Editorial: 2 good-government bills will improve NM's elections - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: 2 good-government bills will improve NM’s elections

Independent voters don’t have a voice in New Mexico’s primary elections, and lawyers are financing judicial campaigns.

Two good-government bills addressing these election shortcomings have been introduced in the Legislature, and it’s time to pass them both and make them law.

House Bill 79, sponsored by Democratic Reps. Miguel Garcia and Daymon Ely and Sen. Katy Duhigg and Republican Sen. Mark Moores, would allow voters who aren’t affiliated with a major political party to vote in primary elections. This is overdue; in many races primary elections determine the ultimate winner. Candidates from Lea to Rio Arriba counties are often unopposed in the general election, leaving voters from one major political party to decide the next sheriff, county clerk or commissioner.

Under HB 79, independent voters could choose a Republican or Democratic ballot in the primary but keep their status as an unaffiliated voter. The change could greatly boost primary voter participation – more than a fifth of the state’s voters are registered as independents, also known as declined to state. According to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, independent voters accounted for 21.7% of registered voters. Time to enfranchise that part of the electorate.

HB 79 is currently stuck in the House Judiciary Committee after an unusual tie vote Friday blocked it from advancing to the full House. The bipartisan bill has met bipartisan opposition, which is unfortunate. Democrats and Republicans seemingly always agree upon binary elections.

Legislators passed a law last year allowing independent voters to participate in primaries, but only if they agree to register with a political party immediately before casting a ballot. Many voters don’t want to do that. They like being independents, and election laws shouldn’t diminish their independent voices. The state’s 295,500 registered independents deserve to have a say in who represents them, as Mario Jimenez of Common Cause New Mexico notes.

Another good-government bill would expand public campaign financing to more types of judicial races; it cleared its first Senate committee last week after several sitting judges testified in support.

Candidates running for state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals have been able to qualify for public financing since 2008, but not lower court judges. Senate Bill 160, sponsored by Duhigg and Majority Floor Leader Sen. Peter Wirth, would allow District Court judges to qualify for public campaign financing after they obtain a number of small contributions from voters to prove their electability.

Under the current system, District Court candidates have to raise private funds for their campaigns. It’s an unseemly system often opposed by members of the judiciary, because who donates to a district court campaign? Lawyers, for one – who bill-backer Trish Lopez correctly says “shouldn’t be financing judges who are presiding over their cases.”

Retired Supreme Court Justice Edward Chávez says SB 160 would help “remove the appearance courts are a pay-to-play system of justice” and re-establish judicial independence. We agree. It’s time to end the days of forcing judges to shill for contributions while trying to follow arcane guidelines discouraging them from knowing their donors’ identities. SB 160 cleared the Senate Rules Committee Friday by a 7-3 vote and now goes to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

HB 79 and SB 160 are much-needed reforms – one to enfranchise more voters, one to remove the compromising nature of judges accepting campaign contributions from attorneys who may appear in their courtrooms. Our judiciary committees need to get both moving to floor votes and on to the other chamber. Every New Mexican who is registered to vote deserves to be heard; helping ensure integrity in judicial races will help restore faith in the legal system.

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.

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

Nativo Sponsored Content

Ad Tango

taboola desktop


Editorial: 3 congressional maps range from status quo, to ...
One of the congressional maps proposed ... One of the congressional maps proposed by N.M.'s redistricting committee would largely preserve the status quo, a system that has served the majority of ...
Editorial: NM must change state law so killers can't ...
Matthew Chavez is serving a 23-year ... Matthew Chavez is serving a 23-year prison term for second-degree murder in the death of an Army vet ...
Editorial: NM needs proof that $4.6M in ‘academic coaching’ ...
It sounds like a great idea. ... It sounds like a great idea. A big team that can reach out to absentee or stuck-at-home students via ...
Editorial: Governor should not grab starring role
Lights! Camera! Action! was the traditional ... Lights! Camera! Action! was the traditional cue to members of a film crew at the beginning of a R ...
Editorial: Time is now to fix NM pedestrian 'death ...
The stretch of south Coors Boulevard ... The stretch of south Coors Boulevard where Brendan McClure was struck and killed by a Bernalillo Cou ...
Editorial: Keller best of field
Albuquerque is in the midst of ... Albuquerque is in the midst of a surge of violent crime and it's of no solace whatsoever to th ...
Webber is the choice for mayor
We support Webber's reelection, while hoping ... We support Webber's reelection, while hoping City Hall can move beyond its anti-transparency attitude to become more responsive
Editorial: A new stadium has appeal, but proposal needs ...
It's not a bad idea. In ... It's not a bad idea. In fact, it's one with considerable appeal and worthy of considerat ...
Editorial: Journal picks for the ABQ City Council
Today the Journal Editorial Board continues ... Today the Journal Editorial Board continues its endorsements in the Nov. 2 municipal election with i ...