Last week's primary saw a very low turnout, approximately 28% of eligible voters made it to the polls. And that 28% only includes people registered in one of New Mexico's two major parties, the Republicans and the Democrats. Another 200,000 New Mexicans are not even eligible to vote in primaries either because they are registered in other parties or they "decline to state" a party affiliation. Still more eligible voters have not even registered at all, meaning the percent of potential voters that participated in the primary this year is more like 10-15%.
How does the state justify spending over $4 million for an election in which only some taxpayers can participate? Considering the fact that about one out of three new registrants choose no party, it seems like time to change the way parties select their nominees.
The New Mexican's Steve Terrell has already brought up the idea of an open primary, in which any registered voter can vote in any party primary, but the parties are not too excited about letting "non-members" have a say in their decisionmaking process. Another idea being floated about is a "top-two" system, in which any voter can participate, and all the candidates for an office are listed together, with the top two vote getters, regardless of party, being listed on the general election ballot. This has been done in Washington state and is being looked at in other places.
We think the state legislature should take a good look at revamping the election system here in New Mexico. If all the taxpayers are funding these elections, then all voters should have a say. If the parties don't want to allow nonmembers into their nominating process, then the parties should pay for the elections themselves, as the Democrats do with their Presidential "caucus".
Whatever happens, we certainly need to do something to increase participation in our elections.
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