New Mexico InFocus producer Sarah Gustavus interviewing Bob Perls, Founder, New Mexico Open Primaries, February 2, 2016 on PBS/KNME-TV
New Mexico Open Primaries (NMOP) is a movement of diverse New Mexicans who believe in a simple, yet radical idea: no New Mexican should be required to join a political party to fully and fairly exercise their right to vote.
The mission of New Mexico Open Primaries is to make sure that every voter has equal protection under the law when it comes to voting and that by making sure that every voter is heard, we help get at the root cause of our political dysfunction. Our goals are to create a system in New Mexico with more competitive elections leading to a better functioning legislature and increased voter engagement.
It is critical to educate the public on the concept of open and nonpartisan primary elections, including why elections should be a state and not a party function, and to inform citizens about the advantages of a non-partisan re-districting approach.
During the progressive era, partisan primary elections were enacted to curb the power of party bosses and bring voters into the process of selecting party nominees. However, over the last 20 years or so, a combination of factors have led to fewer and fewer people participating in party-run primary elections. Today, 25 percent of voters in New Mexico do not wish to enroll in a major political party and New Mexico closed primaries bar them from voting in first round elections. Many thousands more register with a major party because they are required to do so to exercise their fundamental right to vote. This is wrong. The gridlock and hyper-partisanship in New Mexico and the nation are destructive and can be changed by changing the way we elect our representatives.
Closed primaries also make it more difficult for new coalitions to form and for New Mexicans—both voters and elected officials—to come together across ideological lines. We need an election system that allows everyone to vote all the time so that candidates must listen to the broadest possible range of opinions. Other states have adopted this approach like Nebraska, Washington and California and elected officials are coming together to solve problems in ways never seen for a hundred years. That is because to get re-elected they must appeal to all voters, not just the party regulars who tend to vote in primaries and tend to be more conservative (in a Republican primary) or more liberal (in a Democratic primary) than most Americans.
How do open primaries make government work better? California’s legislature went from being the worst functioning in the Nation for decades to the best within two election cycles after their “top-two” open primaries system was passed. Top two means that the top two vote getters in the primary election advance to the general regardless of party affiliation. Nebraska is a heavily Republican state with 71 percent of legislators registered as such, yet last year it repealed the death penalty, passed meaningful immigration reform and solved their budget crisis. How? Why? Because the all legislators function in a non-partisan environment where issues are debated, compromises made and coalitions ebb and flow based on the problem at hand. In other words, the legislature actually gets things done because of the way officials are elected and the incentives that are in place under a non-partisan open primary to truly govern.
New Mexico Open Primaries commitment is to public education and awareness as well as legal remedies to protect and enhance New Mexicans’ voting rights. Since the New Mexico legislature has not passed an open primaries bill, court action may be necessary and we are at the forefront of thoughtful court action designed to force our legislature’s hand
This movement is not about making sure the outcomes of elections are more liberal or more conservative. This is a social justice movement started to ensure that all people can vote andcan have an impact on all elections. The more diverse the participation, the more our representatives’ decisions will reflect the will of all the people.
Join us! The more you learn about this, the more excited you will become at the prospect that American democracy can actually work through coalition building, listening and working together.
Email NMOP Founder and Board Member Bob Perls at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1(505) 259-2377