Monday, November 9, 2015
Top Two Primary Elections
Voting Matters has great respect for Bob Perls from his time in the legislature and for his dedication to improving the function of our government and our elections. And I greatly appreciate his efforts to increase voter participation in New Mexico. That said, I highly doubt his suggestion of an open primary top two system will lead to the desired results.
See the commentary at NMPolitics here: http://www.nmpolitics.net/index/2015/11/what-new-mexico-politics-can-learn-from-nebraska/
We contend that the main reason for low voter participation is low candidate participation. Two candidates, no matter how different, cannot begin to represent the diversity of New Mexicans.
While the top two system allows for more participation by opening up the primary to more voters, it doesn't actually encourage more participation since at the general election there are still only two candidates on the ballot. Now if Mr. Perls were talking about a top four primary, that would be different.
Let's look more closely at Nebraska's 2014 legislative elections. While 47% turnout is admittedly better than New Mexico's 40%, it still shows that more than half of all Nebraskans did not vote in the general election. And, frankly, their open primary only attracted 27% of their potential voters- hardly something to shout about.
Why? Because of a lack of candidates. 14 of Nebraska's 25 legislative districts had only one or two candidates- all guaranteed to "win" the top two primary and go on to November. And in 21 of 25 districts, the same person who got the most votes in May won the general. If these statistics don't scream "why bother?" to voters, I don't know what does.
While it is hard to argue with the fact that since the primary election is paid for by the state, all citizens should be able to cast ballots, there are other reforms that would do a better job at increasing turnout.
First, get rid of the gerrymandered single seat districts that guarantee "safe seats" for one party or the other, and create an independent redistricting commission.
Second, reduce the number of signatures needed for minor party and independent candidates to get on the ballot. New Mexico's 3% requirement for independent candidates is among the highest in the nation, and prevented even an incumbent member of the Public Education Commission from running for reelection in 2014.
Finally, create a system of universal voter registration, so that voters are not disenfranchised because they weren't aware the registration deadlines and requirements.
Mr. Perls goals are laudable, but the fact remains that having only two candidates on the general election ballot will not increase voter participation.
Posted by Rick Lass at 7:56 PM
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