New Mexico: Where Voter Choice Goes to Die?

The headline may sound sensational, but trust me: there is a lot of truth to it.

New Mexico held its primary elections on Tuesday, June 5. It is a closed primary state, which means only registered Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians can participate in their respective party’s primaries. This, in and of itself, creates a system where equal participation in the public election process is conditioned on affiliating with a private political organization.

According to the latest voter registration data, this means a quarter of the electorate cannot participate in this crucial stage of the election process — an alarming statistic when you add to it that 34 state legislative seats are uncontested by either a Republican or Democrat in 2018.

To put it another way: That’s about half the legislature (34 out of 70 seats). The only other qualified political party, the Libertarian Party, lists one candidate on its site — Carl “Marty” Swinney (HD-59), and William Arnold Wiley, Jr. is running as a libertarian in HD-31.

Many of these districts are so heavily gerrymandered toward one party or another that the other parties do not bother to even field a candidate.

For instance, in HD-1, only incumbent Republican Rodney Montoya is running, leaving Democrats, third party members, and independent voters with no alternative options. HD-1 is one of several districts where only the incumbent is on the ballot. So, if you don’t like your representative… too bad!

In HD-13, three Democrats are running, but there are zero Republicans or Libertarians. So the election will essentially be decided in the Democratic primary while voters registered outside the party have no say in the matter. This is what happens in a partisan system. The political minority is left out of the decision-making process in most cases.

Now this does present a possible opportunity for candidates outside the parties. In a two-candidate race, independent candidates can run viable campaigns, and have a better shot at winning.

Two independents, in particular, have launched campaigns in HD-40 and HD-50: Tweeti Blancett and Jarratt Applewhite. Blancett is a former member of the legislature and Applewhite is a well-known businessman and nonprofit executive. These are two candidates who can clearly run competitive campaigns, and they are running in districts where only one other candidate will appear on the November ballot.

Blancett and Applewhite can appeal to independents (who make up a sizable percentage of the electorate), and members of parties outside the Democratic Party (the controlling party in both districts), as well as disenchanted Democrats.

New Mexico, however, does not make it easy for these candidates. Independent candidates have to get 3% of the total vote in the last election to get on the general election ballot. This may not sound like a lot at first, but consider HD-50, where Applewhite is running.

Three percent of the total vote in the last election (2016) means Applewhite must get over 400 signatures in a district that spans  a couple hundred miles. Meanwhile, Democrats only have to get 75 signatures, Republicans have to get 35, and libertarians only have to get 10.

On his website, Jarratt Applewhite says in the nearly 4 decades since New Mexico created independent candidate procedures (allowing independent candidates to appear on the ballot), only 15 legislative independent candidates have qualified for the ballot.

Three percent may not sound like much, but it is higher than many other states, and clearly having an impact on people choosing to run. Third party and independent candidates have until June 28 to file to be on the November ballot.

The process at every level is blocking competition and voter choice in New Mexico — from the closed primaries to gerrymandered districts to ballot access requirements. And the state, much like most states controlled by the duopoly, isn’t friendly to candidates who would pose a challenge to the two-party establishment.

I don’t think it too sensational to say that New Mexico is clearly where voter choice goes to die.