Wednesday, February 15, 2017

NM Open Primary Bill Clears House Committee

New Mexico Voters Unaffiliated with either of the two Major Political Parties, currently barred from participating in Primary Elections, would be allowed to choose either a Democratic or Republican Primary Ballot under a Bill that unanimously cleared a House Committee Tuesday.

It would be better if all candidates were on one Ballot, so Voters can pick their choice of candidates, not the Parties selections.

But judging by the reaction a similar Bill received in a Senate Committee earlier this week, the House bill could run into trouble if it makes it to the other side of the Roundhouse.

The House Local Government, Elections, Land Grant and Cultural Affairs Committee gave a Do-Pass recommendation to House Bill 206, sponsored by Reps. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, and Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. Garcia Richard says her Bill is aimed at increasing Voter Turnout.

Statewide, nearly a quarter of Registered Voters are not allowed to participate in publicly funded Primaries. As of the end of January, Independent Voters made up 19% of the Registration, while Minor Parties made up an additional 4%.

Garcia Richard also argued that many parts of the State are dominated by one Party, so Local races frequently are decided in the Primary rather than the General Election. This means people who are not Affiliated with a Major Party in these areas are essentially barred from choosing Candidates for Key Offices in their Communities.

The Senate Rules Committee on Monday heard a similar Bill, Senate Bill 205, sponsored by Sen. John Sapien, D-Corrales. There, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, had pointed questions about the Legislation, bluntly saying he couldn’t support the Bill in its present form. He described it as “unconstitutional’ and “not well thought-out.”

The Bill would violate the U.S. Constitution, he said, because it would force the Major Political Parties to allow people who aren’t Party Members to Vote in their Primaries.

To solve this problem, they could separate the Ballot in two Ballots, one for only Party Members to select Party Officials and County/State Committee members, and the other for ocal, State, and Congressional Candidates.

Ivey-Soto cited a unanimous State Supreme Court decision issued last week that found the current system of excluding those not Registered as Democrats or Republican is not in Violation of the State Constitution. Justice Edward Ch├ívez, in his written opinion, said requiring Voters to Register with a Political Party in order to Vote in Primary Elections is not overly taxing and instead helps to preserve the “Purity” of the Election process and protect against abuses to the system.

Referring to the current Closed-Primary system, Ivey-Soto said any Independent Voter is free to change Registration to Democrat or Republican several weeks before a Primary, Vote in the Primary, then change Registration again a few days after the Election. “This is by no means an onerous process,” he said.

But the High Court left open the possibility for Legislative changes, such as Sapien’s and Garcia Richard’s Bills, saying the ruling did not deem an Open Primary Election Unconstitutional.

Ivey-Soto said he would be willing to support a Bill like one introduced in 2015 by Sen. Bill O’Neill, D-Albuquerque, that would allow the Major Parties to decide whether to allow Independents or Minor Party Members to Vote in their Primaries. O’Neill’s Bill never made it out of the Senate Rules Committee.

Sapien agreed to rewrite SB 205 to make it more like O’Neill’s Bill. The Rules Committee, which didn’t take a Vote Monday, is scheduled to consider the Bill again Wednesday.

There is another piece of Legislation this year aimed at letting Independents Vote in Primaries. House Joint Resolution 6, sponsored by Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas, D-Albuquerque, would create a single June Primary in which all Candidates for an Office would appear on the same Ballot, and all Voters would chose among them. Then the Top-Two vote-getters would appear on the November Ballot.

Maestas’ measure, which he says is modeled after California’s Primary system, has not been scheduled for a Committee hearing.

NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker
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richardwinger said...

The Maestas bill would not be better, because it would limit voter choice in the November election. The Maestas bill doesn't actually open up the primary ballot. IT abolishes primaries. It replace them with a popularity contest held five months before the general election, and only the two most popular candidates would be permitted to be candidates in the general election. Why does anyone think it is a good idea to have only two choices in the general election? The general election is not a run-off. Federal law since 1872 says November is the election itself and any run-offs must be after November.

mhdrucker said...

What is your thoughts on a Top-Move then Two? I saw a suggestion using Top-20%, any candidate with 20%+ goes to the General Election, or up to 4 candidates

richardwinger said...

I don't support any popularity test in advance of an actual election. Why not let every candidate who has shown interest in running in the general election, and who is serious enough to be willing to pay a modest fee, or to complete a modest petition, on the ballot, the way Louisiana does? Louisiana has no voting until November. So everyone can run in November, which maximizes voter freedom. Instant runoff voting would be a good addition to the Louisiana system. Right now Louisiana has run-offs in December if no one gets 50% in November. In most elections someone does get at least 50% in the election itself.

mhdrucker said...

I like their system as the best. I would add Ranked-Choice Voting to replace the run-off. I would also create two ballots. I would add a Party Ballot for member-only elections of Party Officials and County/State Committee members.