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Legislature to consider bipartisan push for open primaries

SANTA FE — A bipartisan pair of lawmakers is pushing to open New Mexico primary elections to unaffiliated, independent voters.

The goal is to force candidates to appeal to the broadest number of voters, not just their party’s base of liberals or conservatives, supporters say. Right now, only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans in the GOP primary.

Supporters say the proposal would give unaffiliated voters — those who aren’t registered with any political party — a voice in choosing the candidates who make it onto the general election. That’s important, they say, because many races are decided in the primary.

Reps. Stephanie Garcia Richards, D-Los Alamos, and Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque, are sponsoring House Bill 206, the proposal to open the primaries to unaffiliated voters.

An increasing number of voters, especially young ones, are choosing to register without a party affiliation.

“This is telling us we need to readjust the sails,” Dines said.

About half the states in the nation have open primaries of some kind.

The proposal would have to win approval of the state House, Senate and Gov. Susana Martinez to take effect.

Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, has an even more ambitious proposal. It calls for amending the state constitution to create a “top two” candidate system.

Every voter in the primary would get the same list of candidates, and they’d pick the one candidate they like best. Then the top two vote-getters would advance to the general election — regardless of whether it’s two Democrats, two Republicans, one of each or some other combination involving Libertarians.

Nebraska, California and Washington have a similar system.

To take effect, his measure, House Joint Resolution 6, would have to pass the House and Senate, then win approval from voters.

There’s also a proposal to make it easier for independent and minor-party candidates to make the ballot.

Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, is proposing a bill to bring the number of signature requirements for an independent or minor-party candidate in line with what’s required of Democrats and Republicans.