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Voters Could Choose Open Primaries

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New Mexico’s independent voters could be allowed to participate in primary elections if a proposed constitutional amendment is successful.

Albuquerque Democratic Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas and Rep. Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos, introduced the proposal (HJR 12) which will require a majority vote in the House and Senate before being put in front of voters (of all registrations) on the statewide ballot in November.

Although political partisanship seems to have reached an apex over the last decade, most Americans are not solidly liberal or conservative, according to the Pew Research Institute, which issued a major report on political polarization in 2014.

But while the most partisan tend to be among the most politically active, many with centrist views are among the least engaged in the political process, the survey showed. At the same time, voter turnout for the 2014 midterm elections was at its lowest rate since World War II.

Here in New Mexico, nearly a quarter of people “decline to state” a party affiliation when they register to vote—a rate that has tripled over the past 30 years, according to Garcia Richard.

And many independent voters don’t like it that only registered Democrats and Republicans can participate in primary elections. A recent non-scientific poll on the website of the Taos News showed respondents prefer open primaries two-to-one.

Garcia Richard said Monday that young people in Los Alamos are particularly resistant to being pushed to the edges of the ideological universe.

“I hear that they are reluctant to identify with one political party," she said. "They want to be independent and I just don’t think it’s fair to lock them out of the system for that reason."

A state district judge upheld New Mexico’s ban on independents in primary elections in March, 2015; the lawsuit had been brought by an independent voter. The state Democratic Party did not take part in the suit and the state Republican Party asked for the suit to be dismissed, saying outsiders had no right to interfere in party matters.

Check out all of the content from our People, Power and Democracy project. It's a collaboration between KUNM, New Mexico In DepthNew Mexico PBS and the New Mexico News Port at UNM. Funding for the project comes from the Thornburg Foundation. 

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