The New Mexico Legislature is considering Senate Bill 73, which would allow registered Independents to vote in the primaries. This is a voting-rights bill, driven by the fundamental principle that everybody deserves to have their voice heard.
It’s a simple enough principle, but not all opportunities to be heard are the same. Are people who show up to vote in November, where they choose one of two polarized options in a string of races that are already as good as decided, really being heard?
For anyone who feels saddled with a lesser-of-two-evils choice, there’s a simple answer: Vote in the primaries, the part of the election when there are often more than two candidates, and when the partisan balance of a district does not decide the race before it happens. So, why don’t more people do that?
We at New Mexico Open Elections believe it’s because of who the primaries are still designed for. Despite the crucial reform of turning them from closed-door meetings into public elections, primaries are still promoted, catered and campaigned as an insider game. And, while many factors keep them this way, one requirement stands in front as an emblematic gate: The need to join the club in order to participate.
Or, at least, it does in New Mexico and only eight other states in the U.S. The other 41 have decided the decisions made in the primaries are too important to exclude the growing number of people who don’t identify with a major party. This bill is the most basic way to join them: Letting Independent and Decline-to-State voters show up to vote and, without going through the prohibitive hassle of changing their voter registration, choose a single primary election to which to contribute their voice.
The results are clear: When states make this simple change, thousands of people begin to vote. And the results are clear on something else, too: This change does not open a floodgate of people trying to cheat the system by spoiling the primary of the party they oppose.
And it makes sense when you think about it: If someone is invested enough to want to mess with their opponents, they’re probably also invested enough to want to participate in their own primary instead. Not only are the rare few who really want to be strategic manipulators already able to do so by changing their registration beforehand, but also they are dwarfed by the swath of people who would vote legitimately if only it were as simple as showing up.
This is 25% of registered N.M. voters and the fastest-growing group today, which consists disproportionately of groups that particularly need to be heard, including veterans, young adults and people of color.
As the loudest voices in each party become more extreme, moderates feel increasingly as if the political insiders don’t want to listen to them. Supporting open primaries is not just a way to grant them access on principle – but also a way to get their vote by telling them politicians want their voice, and for more than just one November day each year.
Primary elections can be when everybody exercises their right to be part of government. Tell your state reps all they have to do is open the door.