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Indivisible Las Cruces Group Explores NM Primary System and Ranked-Choice Voting

Michael Hernandez


Members of Indivisible Las Cruces, a local nonpartisan group that focuses on voter education and civic engagement, met recently to discuss upcoming and potential changes to the electoral process in New Mexico.

More than 55 percent of registered voters statewide turned out in the 2018 midterm elections. While that’s up 15 percent from 2014, it means nearly half of New Mexico’s total eligible voters didn’t.

And that’s just the general election. Voter turnout in the June primaries was significantly lower, just over 27.5 percent.

Indivisible Chair-Elect Greg White said he thinks part of the reason is the state’s closed primary system, which requires voters to register with a political party to vote in that party’s primary.

The requirement excluded nearly a quarter of registered voters who declined to state a party affiliation. White said he’s in favor of ending closed primaries, which he called discriminatory.

“It’s a horrible process and what’s happening now? We’re seeing more and more people decline to state, new voters. And who are those new voters? They’re either young people registering for the first time, by and large I’m saying, or they’re new citizens. The two populations with the highest reason to become involved are declining to state affiliation with a party. I think part of that’s related to the closed primary system," White said.

New Mexico is one of 14 states with closed primaries for congressional and state level offices. White said that benefits the state’s three major political parties: Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians, not the voters.

Another Indivisible member, Patricia Pettit said switching to an open primary system, which allows voters to select any party’s candidate regardless of their own affiliation, would give more New Mexicans a voice.

“Because right now because of the control of the two parties, people’s voices have been stymied. They are given a certain way they can participate but not the freedom of participation," Pettit said. "I also agree that it’s taxation without representation because my tax dollars pay for those primaries. But I’m an independent because I don’t believe in either platform. I think that’s something that needs to evolve from the people, not from the people in power.”

The other main discussion topic at the group’s meeting dealt with ranked-choice voting, which the City of Las Cruces will implement for the first time during its municipal elections in 2019.

Here’s how it works: Voters may rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate receives a majority of votes, 40 percent in Las Cruces, they win. But if there’s no majority, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. Their votes are then redistributed based on the voter’s next preference. The process repeats until there’s a majority winner.

Before Las Cruces adopted ranked-choice voting in June, city charter required voters to participate in a separate runoff election between the top two candidates, if no one received 40 percent of the vote.

Ashley Beyer is the southern New Mexico organizer for FairVote New Mexico, part of a national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that focuses on electoral reform. Beyer said ranked-choice voting results in an instant runoff, which prevents a smaller number of people deciding an election’s outcome.

“So, what’s great about that is it avoids a second election by basically already having it on the ballot. So although people may argue that you are voting for more than one candidate, you’re really not because your vote’s not being applied to more than one candidate at the same time," Beyer said."

In addition to saving taxpayers money, Beyer said ranked-choice voting could also lead to candidates running more civil campaigns.

“Because instead of just ignoring those campaign signs for your opponents, you’re going to be asked and expected to go to their door and say ‘I see you have so-and-so’s sign on your lawn. I assume they’re going to be your first choice but let me talk to you about why I would like to be your second choice," Beyer said. "So, do you think you’re going to be their second choice if you walk to their door, talking negative and hateful things about their favorite candidate? No, so you want them to vote for you second so you’re not going to spreading and talking these nasty negative things like the campaigns we frequently see now.”

Both White and Pettit said ranked-choice voting gives voters a voice in who they select.

“It’s about the dialogue. It no longer becomes a group of persons in a party saying that what we have is these candidates. It’s the populace selecting the candidates," White said.

Santa Fe used ranked-choice voting system for the first time in its municipal elections in March.

An exit poll conducted by FairVote New Mexico found that more than two-thirds of respondents did not find the ballot confusing and 94 percent were satisfied with their voting experience.

Michael Hernandez was a multimedia reporter for KRWG Public Media from late 2017 through early 2020. He continues to appear on KRWG-TV from time to time on our popular "EnviroMinute" segments, which feature conservation and citizen science issues in the region.