Monday, June 10, 2013

SF Dems Hold Forum on Open Primaries

The Santa Fe County Democratic Party is hosting a forum next week to debate whether the party should open its primaries to (at least) independent voters.

"New Mexico permits only registered members of a party to vote," County Chairman Richard Ellenberg said in an email this afternoon. "Some argue everyone or at least independents should be allowed to vote in the primary. Others contend that only persons registered to a party should pick the candidates for that party."

The forum is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday June 19 at the Center for Progress and Justice, 1420 Cerrillos Road. It's free and open to the public.

In April, Fred Nathan, director of the Santa Fe public policy think tank Think New Mexico wrote the state chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties asking for their support to open their respective primaries.

“By including and listening to independent voters, you will better position your party to win the general election,” he wrote. “Since independents often comprise the deciding swing votes in close elections, gaining their support early could make the difference in many elections. So there will be an advantage to whichever party moves first to open its primaries.”

On its website, Think New Mexico points out, "The number of New Mexico's `independent' voters, who are not affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican party, has tripled from 6% to 18% in the last three decades, yet none of those 230,839 voters are allowed to vote in the state's primary elections."

Tax money pays for the primary elections.

Regarding Nathan's letter, state GOP Chairman John Billingsly said he was worried about outside groups disrupting the primaries. (Some Dems have the same fear.) But then-Democratic Chairman Javier Gonzales said he supports the idea.

“It’s not only healthy for democracy but for the Democratic Party,” Gonzales said. “I believe our ideas would resonate for many independents.”

Both Nathan and Gonzales are scheduled to be at the forum, as is Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe. (I haven't talked to him yet about this issue.)

Nathan and others have pointed out that a majority of states have some sort of open primary. Some states allow independent voters to choose what primary ballot they want. Some allow all voters to choose what primary ballot they want when they go to vote.