A new law touted as a “baby step” toward open primaries actually turned out to be more of a rollover in the cradle of democracy.
Of the 304,000 New Mexicans registered as “declined to state,” only 2,111 chose to jump through the Legislature’s Byzantine hoops to affiliate themselves with a major party for the privilege of casting a primary election ballot.
That’s about two-thirds of 1%, hardly a giant leap forward in engaging the disenfranchised in the democratic process. Put another way, 99.3% of registered voters who have chosen not to affiliate with a major political party did not take the bait.
It’s not yet known how many of those 2,111 former DTS voters have done the legwork to revert back to their independent status. Party bosses are no doubt counting on them not to bother and let it ride.
Lawmakers in 2020 approved a same-day voting registration change that took effect this year. It allows DTS voters and voters registered with certain minor political parties to change their registrations to one of the major parties during early voting or on Election Day in order to vote in either the Democratic, Republican or Libertarian primary.
The option to switch at the polls was not available to voters registered with the three major political parties. They faced earlier deadlines to switch party registration.
Deputy Secretary of State Sharon Pino says the new system worked well. But we’re already hearing reports from voters about trouble using the new law at polling sites around New Mexico due to technical glitches and a lack of poll worker training.
Richard Eitzen of Albuquerque said he tried to register with one of the major parties at a polling site in the Northeast Heights, but the computer wouldn’t accept his signature and a poll worker could not correct the problem. He says that, after 20 to 30 minutes, and without being offered a provisional ballot, “I gave up and left without voting.”
Independents, who tend to be younger and people of color, have been the fastest-growing segment of New Mexico’s registered voter population in recent years. DTS voters made up just 8% of the state’s registered voters in 1990, but now account for 22.6% of the state’s 1.3 million-plus registered voters. It’s no wonder party leaders want to compel them to vote in their primaries in perpetuity.
Despite the establishment’s PR spin, the “baby step” really perpetuates the state’s closed primary system and political duopoly. A true open primary would not seek to co-opt independents or require them to jump through a second hoop to re-register as independents.
Requiring party affiliation to vote is simply anti-democratic and ignores the fact that taxpayers of all political stripes are picking up the $5.5 million to $6 million tab to fund a primary election, from printing the ballots to paying poll workers. It’s why New Mexico is one of just nine states with closed primaries.
State lawmakers have again failed to recognize the growing national momentum in favor of open primaries. Their remarkably cynical 2020 legislation is in fact no “baby step”; at best, it’s walking in place as the world moves on.
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.