New Mexico is making it easier for voters to register to vote or update their registration, starting after the 2020 presidential election.
This year’s Senate Bill 672 provides that, beginning in 2021, voters may register or update their registration any time up to and including election day.
The bill also provides for so-called “automatic” registration when an individual applies in person for a motor vehicle license or any state issued benefits. It isn’t completely automatic. An eligible voter is to be offered a choice whether to register or not. The process is designed to prevent anyone who is not an eligible voter, such as a noncitizen, from being registered by accident.
As you might expect, the bill is full of procedural details about how this is to be done to avoid errors or duplications.
Every voter must choose political party affiliation. If you don’t want to affiliate with any party, you register as DTS or “Decline to State.” Our recognized major parties are Democrat, Republican and Libertarian.
The Green Party is a minor party, having lost its major party status some years ago. New Mexico also recognizes the Better for America Party and the Constitution Party. These parties have no primary.
A new voter can register until election day with any affiliation, but if you are changing your registration – – for example, if you have changed your address – – you may not change party in a last-minute registration.
This provision is most likely intended to prevent voters from playing fast and loose with the primary process by voting in the primary of the opposing party. According to Senator Daniel Ivey-Soto, a cosponsor of the bill, this has hardly ever happened, but some legislators apparently worry about it anyway.
The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office shows 1,273,775 total registered voters as of January 2019. Registered Democrats totaled 582,279, 45.7 percent; Republicans 386,441, 30.3 percent; Libertarians 9,995, 0.8 percent, DTS 282,299, 22.2 percent; other parties 12,761, 1 percent. The office estimated there were were about 385,000 unregistered eligible voters in 2018.
In New Mexico’s closed primary system, only registered members of major parties can vote in that party’s primary. DTS voters and minor party voters don’t participate.
In addition, only party members can validly sign nominating petitions for candidates in partisan elections, vote in pre-primary nominating conventions or serve as party officials.
Nowhere is there any requirement to agree with the policy positions of your political party, whether officially adopted in a party platform or unwritten and favored by the current leadership. You can affiliate with a party because you like what it stands for, or because you want to influence what it stands for, or for any reason you choose. In some northern New Mexico counties, for example, it’s common to register Democrat because local elections are likely to be decided in the Democratic primary.
And there’s never been any obligation to vote for your party’s nominees in the general election.
Newly registered New Mexico voters are less likely to register in a party. From March 2017 through August 2018, 43,434 new voters registered, and more than 50 percent registered as other than Democrat or Republican.
New Mexico has a movement advocating open primaries (www.NMOpenPrimaries.org), which would allow independent voters to vote in primaries. About half the states now have such systems. Though they’re all a little different, the general principle is that the unaffiliated voter gets to choose which ballot to vote.
In 19 states, voters do not register in a party. In 18 of those states, they just register. North Dakota has no registration at all but a somewhat restrictive voter ID process (the state tried to disenfranchise Native Americans last year with restrictive address requirements but was stopped).
Open registration seems quite radical even to suggest in New Mexico, but it may be worth talking about.
Triple Spaced Again, © New Mexico News Services 2019