Commentary: What’s wrong with our election system? That’s a big question. Most of what’s wrong can be summed up into one generalization; our election system is designed to only encourage certain types of voters while creating burdens for those viewed as less desirable types of voters. Candidates, political parties, and governing entities are largely able to control the outcome of an election by taking advantage of low voter turnout and noncompetitive elections. These tactics ensure that those in power, stay in power. It ensures that their way of thinking and governing is the only viable option.
As the people, we deserve better. We deserve a system that works for us. We deserve a system that encourages civic involvement. We deserve elected officials who truly represent the people. We deserve a government that we can all be proud of.
How do we fix our election system? We need to increase ease and access to voting. We need to put an end to publicly funded private elections. We need more competitive elections. We need to eliminate the burdens that prevent people from being involved.
I am not going to spend my time arguing about the corrupted two-party system. The increasing polarization between the two major parties proves that we need a more diverse governing body. I am going to spend time discussing the need to open primary elections and the need to increase ballot access for independent and third-party candidates. Our current system imposes unreasonable hardships on these candidates.
A person running for office as an independent or third-party candidate is required to obtain significantly more signatures than a candidate of the Democratic or Republican Party. This requirement alone insinuates that those individuals have less to offer the people just because their beliefs don’t coincide with that of a major party. All candidates, regardless of party affiliation, should have the same access and opportunities to appear on the ballot. If a person meets the legal qualifications to hold an office, the law should also provide them with the same access to the ballot. If I choose to run for an office as an independent candidate, I refuse to believe that alone makes me less suited for that position. It would be better to have a candidate who is more devoted to their constituents than their party.
On a similar note, it is imperative that we address the issue of the closed primary system. I personally believe that we should not have a private election that is funded by taxpayers, most of whom are not eligible to vote in said election. I also strongly oppose this system because often, the primary election decides who wins the general election. This means that only those who were eligible to vote in that primary election determined who would represent the interests of all citizens. I have listened to the many supporters and opponents of opening primaries. While some of the concerns over opening primaries may have some merit, they are far outweighed by our responsibility to all citizens.
I have had numerous conversations with elected officials in New Mexico, from city councilors and county commissioners to state representative and state senators. They all more or less tell me the same things; it’s time to open primary elections, we should consolidate local elections, it should be more accessible for people to vote. These are great things to hear, but it’s time to end the talk. It’s time to start making those changes. Standing up for the majority of their constituents does not have to mean abandoning their party. It simply demonstrates that they see the value and importance of upholding our democratic system that so many people have fought and died for. It demonstrates that they are truly deserving of the office they were elected to hold. I challenge all current, and future, elected officials to take action to end systemic disenfranchisement of independent voters.
Ashley Beyer is currently a board member of New Mexico Open Primaries, as well as an active member of the Dona Ana County Election Advisory Council.