Sunday, November 22, 2009

Straight Party Voting

Friday's edition of "New Mexico Politics with Joe Monahan" ( reports that there are not yet any Republican candidates for state executive branch positions of auditor, treasurer, or attorney general. Mr Monahan points out that in a state that is predominately Democrats, it is unlikely a Republican can win, though at the same time he mentions that there is a Republican Land Commissioner, and Republicans have held other state offices in past years.

We pointed out on this blog recently the inherently unfair districts created for US Congress, state legislators and county commissioners, districts intentionally designed to keep incumbents in office and maintain the balance of power essentially as it is now. While statewide offices do not share that problem, one contributing factor of this near one party rule in New Mexico is the straight party ballot option.

In New Mexico and many other states, general election ballots are printed with the option of selecting "Democrat" or "Republican", resulting in a vote for all of the candidates of that party. While this option may have had some validity in previous centuries, when information about particular candidates was harder to come by, in today's age of websites, mass mailings, and mass media, the straight party option has lost its usefulness.

Problematically, the straight party option is not only not useful, it may actually contribute to voter confusion. A look at random ballots from the 2006 general election revealed many instances of voters not understanding what that ballot option means. Many voters selected the straight party option and then went on to vote for all or some of that party's candidates in specific races, perhaps thinking the party line was asking to which party they belong. While this confusion resulted in unnecessary and redundant selections, at least they did not cancel those votes, as they had when voting on touch screen voting machines in past years.

In fact, the straight party option does not appear to be legal. Nothing in statute or in the Secretary of State's administrative rules specifies that the ballot contain a straight party line, and the decision of which parties are listed has been applied inconsistently.

Repeated attempts to eliminate this practice have been unsuccessful, as chairwomen Linda Lopez of the Senate Rules Committee has refused to even grant relevant bills hearings. One would think that if there is merit to keeping the straight party option on the ballot, its proponents would be willing to state those reasons openly.

We believe that our state's legislators and executives should do more to help voters make intelligent choices, but apparently they are content with a system that eliminates their need to campaign on the strength of their ideas.

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