New Mexico voters to have straight-ticket option this fall
Author: Associated Press - August 30, 2018 - Updated: August 30, 2018
SANTA FE, N.M. — New Mexico will become just one of several states to still allow the option to vote a straight-party ticket in the upcoming general election under an effort launched Wednesday by the state’s top elections chief.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she’s formatting the ballots to allow voting in which a slate of major party candidates can be chosen all at one time.
The move drew immediate criticism from the Republican Party of New Mexico and others who described it as partisan maneuvering. Some critics even questioned the legality of Toulouse Oliver’s decision and threatened legal action, pointing to a vote by the Legislature in 2001 to abolish straight-ticket voting.
Former Gov. Gary Johnson signed that legislation nearly two decades ago and is now running as the Libertarian Party’s nominee for the U.S. Senate.
“Pushing voters toward straight ticket voting is a worn-out staple of major party incumbents and flies in the face of the reality that the great majority of voters are independent-minded and don’t need or appreciate a ballot that provides a short-cut to partisanship,” Johnson said in a statement.
Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who is running for re-election, argued that bringing back straight-ticket voting will make it easier for eligible voters to participate.
She also argued that state law gives her office administrative authority to decide the format of the paper ballots that are used in New Mexico elections.
Many Republicans regard the practice of straight-ticket voting as unfair to individual candidates in New Mexico, where registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans.
Also at stake is the growing block of independent voters who are not aligned with any party. They now make up nearly a quarter of the voter rolls.
Toulouse Oliver dismissed the partisanship arguments.
“I don’t think that party registration really has anything to do with this because a voter can opt to vote a straight ticket of a party they’re not registered to vote in or they can vote individual races up and down the ballot,” she said. “It’s really about them having the choice and the option to do either one.”
Voters historically could choose to support a party’s entire slate of candidates by making just one mark on the ballot or pressing a single button or lever on a machine.
Straight-party votes accounted for 41 percent of ballots cast statewide in the 2010 general election. At that time, about 23 percent of the election’s total votes were Democratic straight-ticket ballots and 18 percent were Republican, according to data from the secretary of state’s office.
In 2012, then-Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican, did away with the option because her office said there was no provision in state law specifically authorizing it.
Duran’s decision also caused an uproar. In fact, the head of the state Democratic Party at the time accused her of making the decision without having a public conversation and said such a change shouldn’t happen just months before an election.
While early voting in New Mexico is less than two months away, Toulouse Oliver argued that the circumstances are different now and that she’s providing another tool for voters.
Still, straight-party voting is a vanishing practice. Nationwide, only nine states allow it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several states have abolished it since the 1990s, most recently in Texas with legislation enacted last year that will take effect in 2020.
Toulouse Oliver said she researched the issue and found that in Michigan, that state’s supreme court reinstated straight-ticket voting citing the potential disenfranchisement of some voters.
State GOP Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi questioned Toulouse Oliver’s motive, saying she is charged with overseeing the state’s elections while also participating as a candidate. “It undermines any confidence New Mexico voters can have in the fairness of this election,” he said.
Democratic Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also voiced concerns in a social media post saying he wasn’t a fan of straight-party voting.
“It’s not a matter of voter convenience; it’s a matter of partisan advantage in low information elections,” he wrote. “Our country needs less vicious partisanship, not more.”