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State adds 15K registered voters since year-end

SANTA FE – New Mexico’s voter rolls grew by more than 15,000 voters in the past three months, a trend likely driven by interest in the upcoming presidential primary election and the implementation of a new state system that allows eligible voters to register online.

Of the 15,318 voters who registered from the end of 2015 through March 31, nearly one-third – or about 4,800 voters – did so via the online portal implemented at the start of the year, Kari Fresquez, the interim election director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said this week.

In all, there were more than 1.21 million voters registered statewide as of the start of this month, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

However, there’s no guarantee the increase in voter enrollment will lead to a higher turnout for the June 7 primary election.

Lonna Atkeson, a University of New Mexico political science professor, said some independent voters, or those who decline to affiliate with a political party, may not realize they are not allowed to vote in the primary election under New Mexico law.

Recent attempts to allow independents and voters belonging to minor political parties to participate in the primary election have been unsuccessful to date – both in the Legislature and in the judicial system.

But Atkeson said the state’s swelling voter roles do appear to show both election-year enthusiasm and the effect of making it easier for voters to register.

“I think the fact we have online voter registration is important,” Atkeson told the Journal . “And I think there’s so much attention being paid to the presidential election, that that’s generating excitement.”

Neither the Republican nor the Democratic presidential nomination has been sewn up yet, as Hillary Clinton holds a lead over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary race, and front-runner Donald Trump is trying fend off Ted Cruz and John Kasich on the GOP side.

New Mexico is among the last wave of states holding primary elections and, as such, is typically all but irrelevant in determining a nominee. But the stakes could be higher this year if one, or both, of the two main parties’ nominations remain in limbo when eligible New Mexico voters cast their ballots.

This year’s increase in registered voters has been more pronounced than that of at least some recent election years. In 2014, for example, voter registration went up by just 1,129 people during the same three-month period leading up to that year’s primary election.

Meanwhile, of the total number of New Mexico registered voters as of March 31, roughly 46 percent – or 561,705 – were registered Democrats and about 31 percent – or 377,715 – were registered as Republicans, with the rest either declining to state a party affiliation or being members of another political party.

Although most voters are registered as Democrats or Republicans, the 2.7 percent increase in voters affiliated with minor political parties – including the Libertarian, Green and Constitution parties – actually outpaced the growth of voters registered with major parties during the recent three-month period. There were 40,652 voters registered with minor political parties as of March 31.

The turnout was below average for New Mexico’s last presidential year primary election, with only about 25 percent of registered Democratic voters and 24 percent of Republicans casting ballots in the 2012 primary.

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