State Democrats may be opening up to the idea of allowing independents to vote in partisan primaries, but Republicans are holding their ground in supporting the state's existing system.
"The closed primary election process solidifies support for a candidate based on principles and issues that bind a party together," State Republican Party Chairman John Bilingsley says in a statement to SFR. "It has more incentive for people to join one of the major parities, which leads to more involvement in the voting process."
New Mexico is one of 11 states that restricts primary elections to only voters registered in their respective parties. Critics cite this as a cause for low voter turnout in primaries; last week's elections resulted in a turnout of only 20 percent of eligible voters, and that figure doesn't even include the nearly 240,000 registered "declined to state" voters in New Mexico.
But Billingsley argues that opening up primaries to independents actually leads to lower voter turnout. Though he didn't provide SFR with specific statistics, a recent study on California's primaries seems to back up his claim.
Yet there's another reason critics oppose closed primaries: All of the state's taxpayers, regardless of their voting statuses, have to pay for them. Last week's primary elections cost $3 million in public money, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
"My tax dollars are paying for other people's rights to vote [in primaries], yet I don't share that right," says registered independent Tom Garrity, who heads The Garrity Group public relations firm in Albuquerque.
To that argument, Billingsley counters that taxpayers are "paying for a process that allows them to vote in several different scenarios."
"They have the choice to register with a party in a primary election or caucus with other non party affiliated voters and propose an independent candidate of their own in the general election," Billingsley says. "As an American voter, they have the right to choose the scenario that fits them best."
A lawsuit filed last week contends that New Mexico's closed primary system violates provisions in the state constitution that grant registered voters the right to vote "in all elections in New Mexico." Previous attempts at tackling the issue through the state Legislature went nowhere. In 2012, then-state Rep. Andy Nuñez, at the time an independent representing Doña Ana County, carried a bill to open primaries to declined to state voters. The bill didn't get a committee hearing.
Nuñez, who lost reelection later that year to Democrat Phil Archuleta, is now trying to reclaim his old seat as a Republican.
Billingsley's full statement is as follows:
"A closed primary election is limited to registered voters of a particular party. This primary election gives the voters of that party better control over their eventual nominee rather than the caucus or convention style of selecting party nominees. The closed primary election process solidifies support for a candidate based on principles and issues that bind a party together. It has more incentive for people to join one of the major parties, which leads to more involvement in the voting process.
There are several forms of open primary elections that allow you to cast your vote for either a Republican or Democrat candidate. Some think this would allow for a bigger participation by registered voters without any party affiliation. However, statistics show that voter participation in the US was higher when people could only vote in the primary for their own party - see here [Editor's note: no statistics were provided].
Clear differences exist between both major parties in the U.S. and they reflect the views of their membership of registered voters. Most married couples admit that they don't agree with their spouse 100% of the time and we certainly will not agree with our political candidates, nominees, or leaders even close to that percentage either. But we vote for the candidate whose views most align with ours. Parties advance ideals and principles that their membership can coalesce around. This membership creates candidates who work to be elected leaders. Open primaries dilute party principles.
Independents may register with the party that most suits them, and vote. Alternatively, Independents may have a candidate sign-up after the primary to run as an Independent in the general election.
I have always found it smarter to work from within an organization to make changes rather than destroy from the outside and try to rebuild."