And the push isn’t going through the legislature — it is going straight to the parties themselves.
“We’re for either open primaries or what’s called semi-open primaries,” Think New Mexico executive director Fred Nathan told NM Telegram in a short interview Wednesday afternoon.
This would allow either any registered voter to vote in either the Democratic or Republican Party (an open primary) or allow independents to vote in either the Democratic or Republican primary (a semi-open primary).
Nathan, himself a decline-to-state voter, says that it would be a boon to the political process in the state.
“It would increase voter participation,” Nathan said. “It would increase candidate accountability… I think it would help in terms of depolarizing our political system.”
Nathan said it would increase accountability by allowing more people to weigh in on candidates.
“Many New Mexico elections are essentially decided in the primaries,” Nathan said, referring to races where there are only candidates in one party or another or in districts that are substantially tilted towards one party or the other.
And Nathan says not legislative fix is needed despite statute on the books that keeps primaries closed. This is because of Tashjian v. Republican Party where the Connecticut Republican Party successfully argued that a Connecticut law restricting primaries to the members of the political parties violated the party’s right to assembly. This, Nathan says, gives the parties themselves the decision whether or not to allow independents or members of the other party participate in their elections.
Nathan makes that argument more explicit in a letter he sent to each party chair (embedded below):
Some may argue that New Mexico’s election code does not allow Independents to vote in primaries, although the language of our statutes does not explicitly disallow them from doing so. (As I read it, the statute simply prohibits Democrats from voting in Republican primaries and vice versa). In any case, the controlling authority is the United States Supreme Court, which in Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut held that it
is unconstitutional for a state to mandate closed primaries. The court said in essence that a state cannot stop a party from opening its primary to unaffiliated or Independent voters.
And Nathan says that whichever party does so first will reap the benefits of that decision.
“There’s an advantage to whatever party moves first,” Nathan said.
He argued that if independents are allowed to vote in either party’s primary it will make them more likely to vote for that party’s candidates in the general election.
Photo by whiteafrican, Flickr