September 3, 2015
As a former Democratic New Mexico State Representative and former co-chair of a New Mexico state Democratic Convention (2000), I want to congratulate independent voter David Crum and his attorney, Ed Hollington, on taking the time to challenge New Mexico’s closed primary system. Their argument is persuasive; that a 1969 law enacted by the legislature that empowered the two major parties to run primary elections and allowed them to exclude those not registered to a major party is unconstitutional. This clearly conflicts with the New Mexico constitution’s Bill of Rights that affirms all eligible voters must be allowed to vote. They are appealing to a state appellate court and hopefully there will be a court decision soon.
I understand the old, tired argument that it is a Democratic and Republican primary-why shouldn’t the parties decide who can vote in their primaries? Beyond the argument that the Crum court case highlights, there is another reason why independents should be allowed to vote in all elections and why parties should not control public elections.
Tax dollars pay for primary elections and it is illegal (or should be once the courts catch up based on the New Mexico anti-donation clause) for public dollars to go to private associations (political parties are private clubs). We don’t tolerate it in any situation except the most important activity we do in our country-when we vote. Why have we privatized voting? The State should be running elections, not political parties. One should not have to join a political party to vote.
Since primary elections are paid for by the public through government funds, everyone must be allowed to participate or the government is violating the anti-donation clause of our state constitution by paying for a private association to run a private election. If the parties want to exclude non-party members, then they should pay for their own nominating process. If we want free and fair elections, then the State should pay them and allow all voters to vote in the first and second round elections.
Would we allow a Party caucus to decide how and when to fund the police? The jails? The forest service? Why do allow a private party to decide who can vote? Yes, the parties can decide who they want to represent them and then send that person into a first round vote (at the moment called a primary). However, they should have no right to control that first round vote.
A new non-profit, called New Mexico Open Primaries (www.nmopenprimaries.org), has been founded to educate New Mexico voters about the advantages of non-partisan primaries with the top two going to the general election. Nebraska, Washington and California have adopted such a system in the last few years and it is bringing an end to partisan gridlock, increasing voter turnout and rewarding coalition builders and problem solvers at the expense of divide and conquer, smear campaign strategies.
We also believe the district line drawing process should be removed from the political environment. It should not be up to incumbents to decide who their constituents will be. This results all too often in legislative districts that have little to do with communities of interest, and much to do with padding the incumbent’s re-election margins.
One of the most sacred tenets of our country is one person, one vote. By excluding independents and minor parties from voting in a primary election, this sacred tenet is violated. Non-partisan elections combined with non-partisan, independent redistricting commissions can increase voter confidence and participation while creating an environment for elected officials that rewards problem solving and reaching across the aisle.
Founder, New Mexico Open Primaries
Former New Mexico State Representative