We want to congratulate the Journal for supporting open primaries. This is truly a non-partisan issue critical to enfranchising all voters.
Forty-five percent of Americans are not registered with a major party, 25 percent of New Mexicans are not and over 60 percent of registered voters under 30 are registered as independents. Insisting that New Mexicans have to a join a party to vote is unfair and violates the New Mexico Constitution.
Both major parties stand to gain much by supporting open primaries. By demonstrating that their beliefs and values can attract votes from independents, they will become stronger.
Rep. Moe Maestas filed HJR 12 on Jan. 21, a constitutional amendment that would ensure that everyone has access to all public elections.
Open primaries have the advantage of ensuring that all candidates and elected officials have to reach out to the full political spectrum to win and govern. Whether the solution is to let independents choose the partisan primary within which they want to vote, or to remove the control of first round elections from the party by moving to a non-partisan approach, there is huge benefit to New Mexico to have the Legislature debate and pass an open primaries amendment.
Nebraska, California and Washington have adopted a very expansive type of open primaries that goes beyond letting independents choose in which partisan primary they want to vote. The approach is non-partisan, open primaries with the top two vote-getters going to the general election. Currently, these three states have adopted this approach and, within one election cycle, the states had a better functioning legislature, more competitive elections and more engaged voters, according to several independent studies.
Hyper-partisanship is the root cause of the gridlock in Santa Fe and Washington. When independents are allowed to participate, politicians are forced to reach beyond their usual base of support and listen to a wide range of opinions.
Problem-solving and coalition-building soon take precedence over posturing and gridlock because elected officials can’t win their next election without a broad base of support.
Our current system rewards intransigence. An open primaries system would reward dialogue and governance through problem-solving.
Turning New Mexico around starts with reforming our political system. At the minimum, let’s let independents vote in all public elections, and that means the primaries, where most of the decisions are made in New Mexico.
Bob Perls is a former New Mexico state representative from Corrales. He is a registered independent.