Editorial: Requiring party affiliation to vote is anti-democratic - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Requiring party affiliation to vote is anti-democratic

It seems like they’re hoping we’ll forget, like forgetting to disenroll after a free trial offer for streaming movies or satellite radio that automatically hits your credit card if you don’t call and cancel within 90 days.

One former state lawmaker describes the new rule that will allow independent voters to cast ballots in this year’s primaries as a “baby step” toward opening up primary elections.

But in reality, the proposal is a disingenuous effort aimed at packing non-beholden voters into the major parties while lawmakers side-step the issue of opening up the primaries to the nearly quarter of New Mexican voters registered as independents.

State lawmakers in 2020 authorized the change that allows independent voters to show up at the polls in a primary election and cast a ballot. This year’s primary elections will be the first time the same-day party registration rule is in effect. The old system closed the voter rolls four weeks before Election Day.

But it comes with a catch: independent voters, those who purposely register officially as “Declined to State,” and those who register with a minor political party such as the New Mexico Working Families Party, will have to register with either the Democratic, Libertarian or Republican party to receive that party’s ballot.

And to do that, voters must bring a New Mexico driver’s license or ID card issued through the state Motor Vehicle Division or a similar document with a photo verifying their identity and address. That’s ironic for a state Legislature and governor largely opposed to any form of voter ID.

Independents also won’t be able to mail in absentee ballots during the primary, unless they have jettisoned their independence and declared a major party affiliation.

Bob Perls, a former state legislator, says the new system is a “baby step” toward opening up New Mexico’s primary elections to the growing number of New Mexicans registering without a party affiliation.

But how does requiring party affiliation to vote not bolster the major political parties?

Twenty-three percent of New Mexicans have chosen to register as independents, the fastest growing voting bloc. The number of registered independents in New Mexico has grown by 26% since 2014, far outpacing the 5% growth in voter registrations overall.

That says something: A large number of New Mexicans don’t want to be officially affiliated with any of the major political parties. They prefer being independent. Yet, the new system not only requires them to affiliate with a major party, it automatically keeps them registered with that major party in perpetuity.

DTS voters, who tend to be younger and people of color, will have to remember to re-register as an independent after the primary if they want to keep their independent status. That’s just wrong.

There are currently 302,000 registered independents in New Mexico out of a total of about 1.3 million registered voters overall.

The number of independents has shot up dramatically since 1990, when independents made up only 8% of the state’s registered voters, according to Brian Sanderoff, a political analyst and president of Research & Polling Inc. Those numbers show more and more voters are disappointed, even disgusted, with a political system that caters to the extremes, especially in primary races.

The new law may have been intended to help candidates coax unaffiliated voters into primary contests, but anyone with a TV can see daily that’s not happening. Current candidates for governor and attorney general are clearly targeting the extremes of their bases, not independents.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says the change will enfranchise independent voters who show up to vote in primary elections but are turned away because they’re not registered with a major party. But professional insiders like Sanderoff wonder if it really will help.

So do we.

Sanderoff notes not only would independent voters have to be motivated to show up, they would also have to be willing to fill out the paperwork at the polls to change their affiliation — a process election workers say takes five to 10 minutes.

“Frankly, I suspect most independents aren’t even aware of this change,” Sanderoff told the Journal.

New Mexico could better serve its citizens by truly opening up the primaries to all voters, regardless of party affiliation. We’re not in favor of allowing voters to vote in multiple primaries at one time by “crisscrossing,” because of the potential for shenanigans like Rush Limbaugh’s “Operation Chaos” in 2008, when the talk show host encouraged Republicans to vote for Hillary Clinton in Democratic primaries to keep her in the race and divide the Democratic Party.

A semi-closed system, however, in which voters choose only one primary in which to vote provides some protections against “raiding” the other party’s nominating contest.

Our Legislature’s “baby step” is instead a mechanism to dodge open primaries while forcing people to jump through unneeded hoops and align with a major political party just to vote.

Deputy Secretary of State Sharon Pino told the Journal it cost the state $5,751,707.47 to host primary elections in 2020. That cost is projected to be between $5.5 million and $6 million this year. The state, by statute, pays all the costs, from printing the ballots to paying the poll workers.

That means taxpayers pick up the tab.

So taxpayers pay the costs of holding elections, regardless of their voter registration status. They should be allowed to participate, regardless of their voter registration status. And they shouldn’t have to jump on a partisan bandwagon to do so.

It really is disingenuous to say the new rule opens up the primaries. We just hope voters remember to cancel those unwanted free-trial registrations.

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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