Lawsuit Seeks To Open Up New Mexico Primary Election To Independent Voters

Aug 22, 2014

New Mexico is one of 11 states that hold a strictly closed primary election. This closed primary process only allows for registered Democrats and Republicans to vote in their own primary election. It does not allow for independent voters to cast their vote in the election.  

This closed primary election is unconstitutional according to independent voter and Albuquerque lawyer David Crum who sued Secretary of State Diana Duran and Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver.  Crum is pushing for a semi-closed primary that will include independent voters.

About a year after moving to the state, Crum was not allowed to vote in a primary election because he was registered as an independent voter.

“It meant more to me to sort of remain independent than to change my voting status, just so I can vote in a primary,” says Crum.

Crum and his attorney Ed Hollington both have monitored the rise in independent voters and Crum says that fact…along with case law supporting open primaries…made it the right time for this lawsuit.

According to New Mexico Secretary of State Voter Registration Data, there are more than 239 thousand independent voters in the state….that represents 19 percent of all registered voters.

“What we are seeing is that these-quarter of a million people would rather forego voting in the primary, than calling themselves something that they really are not, which is a Democrat or Republican. Unfortunately, there are also many, many people who simply register as one or the other, even though they don’t want to so they can vote, and that’s what I think is totally unconstitutional and really just against everything that we say we believe in, in this country,” says Crum.

This lawsuit has attracted much attention to the issue of closed primaries in the state. Fred Nathan is Executive Director and Founder of Think New Mexico- a statewide public policy think-tank. He says allowing independent voters to participate in primaries could increase turnout.

According to the New Mexico Secretary of State…only 20 percent of eligible voters took part in the primary election this year.

Nathan says the parties do not have to wait for the legislature to act on this, they can take action.

“They can do this by simply changing their party rules," says Nathan.

Nathan, added the parties themselves could unilaterally open their primaries and not wait for the Legislature to act, because it may never pass or get tied up in the courts.

“There are some constitutional cases that indicate that maybe these decisions should not be made by the Legislature, because they would be interfering with the right of free association. So really it’s more for the parties to decide rather than the Legislature,” says Nathan.

Arguments against opening closed primaries have been said to lead to one party telling voters to “Party-Raid,” or support a candidate that may have no shot of winning in the general election. However, Nathan says that both parties in the state have an opportunity to gain voters that they may have lost over the years.

“The Democrats back in 1984, when Walter Mondale was running for President they had 62 percent of registered voters in New Mexico, today it’s either 47 o 48 percent. So, by inviting voters back into their primary it’s an opportunity to recapture that market share. The Republicans have gone from 33 percent to 32 percent, but they have always been at least for the last six decades the minority party in New Mexico, and so if they become the first mover, they might be able to catch up to the Democrats,” says Nathan.

This is part one of a series. KRWG News has reached out to the New Mexico Democratic and Republican Parties to learn more about where they currently stand on the issue of closed primary elections in New Mexico.