Sunday, January 18, 2015

2015 Legislative Session

At Voting Matters, our main goals are reforms that will increase the number of voters who go to the polls. With the start of the legislative session this week, we wonder how many policymakers share our concerns.

One of the main reasons people don't vote is the lack of choices on Election Day. Fully one half of legislative seats in November 2014 were uncontested. Even the party primaries saw extremely low competitiveness: only 6 of 70 Republican party primaries had 2 candidates; 12 of 70 Democratic seats were contested last June.

One reason that voters don't have choices in November is the extremely restrictive ballot access laws on the books. In fact, New Mexico has had the lowest number of independent and minor party candidates on the ballot of any state over the past 7 elections- a mere 34 non-major party candidates running for federal, state, and legislative seats (according to Ballot Access News).

The other major obstacle that prevents voters from having choices is our ridiculous method of drawing legislative district boundaries. The blatant gerrymandering is so obscene that it has resulted in lawsuits in six of the past seven decades, at a cost of millions to taxpayers- and the results are still categorically unfair. The fact that not a single district had contested primaries for both major parties confirms what the voters already know- it is pointless for a Democrat to run in a Republican designated district and vice versa. We clearly do not have a democracy when it comes to state legislature elections.

There are two easy reforms that would lead us closer to Democracy. One would be easing the onerous requirements on minor party and independent candidates (independents currently need to gather signatures of 3% of the voters in a given district, a requirement which prevented a former member of the state's public education commission from getting on the ballot in 2014). The second positive reform would be creating an independent redistricting commission to redraw district boundaries- boundaries that could be drawn so as not to create noncompetitive Democratic controlled and Republican controlled districts.

Of course, if we want a true democracy that elects representatives for all the citizens (including the 22% who don't align with the two major parties), we need to switch to a system of proportional representation, like nearly every other modern democracy uses. This would move us away from the partisan gridlock that grips our legislative process and the vindictive nature of the two party system.

As this year's “long” 60-day session unfolds, we'll keep our eyes open for bills that will improve our elections and our government.

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