Although the New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled unanimously against a move to open the state’s primary elections to unaffiliated voters – meaning those not registered as Republican or Democrat – the opinion written by Justice Edward Chavez is encouraging to those who support open primaries.
“Our holding in this case should in no way be interpreted as foreclosing the possibility that a different primary system adopted by the Legislature – an open primary, for example – could also be constitutional,” Chavez wrote. That’s precisely what the state Legislature should do during the current long session.
Under current law, only those registered as Republicans or Democrats can vote in primary elections in New Mexico.
Recent polling indicates that about 20 percent of New Mexico’s registered voters decline to state a party preference, effectively eliminating them from the early stages of electing public officials. Not surprisingly – given the nation’s deep political polarization – those numbers are growing, especially among younger voters.
It is simply unfair, to prevent nearly a quarter of a million New Mexicans from voting in the primaries. Doing so discourages major-party candidates from broadening their appeal to the entire electorate, limits competition for elective offices, leads to low voter turnout, and forces many voters to cast ballots for the lesser-of-evils instead of a candidate they truly believe would do a good job in office.
The Journal has long supported a modified open primary system that would require independent voters to pick one or the other major political party in a primary, allowing them to join the great exercise in democracy while discouraging the potential for a party-jumping free-for-all.
At least two bills aimed at opening the primaries to DTS’s – those who Declined to State major party affiliation – have already been filed. Although there is plenty on lawmakers’ plates, lawmakers have ample time to move the issue of open primaries forward.
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.