N.M. Lawsuit: Sec of State’s Straight-Party Ballot Action Illegal

A lawsuit has been filed in response to New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s sudden announcement that she plans to add a straight-ticket (or straight-party) option to the November ballot. The announcement comes as competitive third party and independent campaigns emerge in statewide and legislative races.

“Virtually all political observers agree that straight ticket voting benefits the Democratic Party in New Mexico – of which the Secretary of State is a member, and for whom she is a current candidate for reelection – and harms independent, minor-party, and Republican candidates. As such, the Secretary’s actions are widely perceived as being motivated by partisan interests,” writes the plaintiffs.

Along with the argued partisan interest, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit — which includes Unite New Mexico, Democratic write-in legislative candidate Heather Nordquist, Elect Liberty PAC, Libertarian Party of New Mexico, and the Republican Party of New Mexico — say the secretary of state’s actions violate the law in three specific ways:

  • The straight-ticket proposal violates the state’s election code, as the legislature eliminated the statute that allowed its use. This repeal, they argue, bars the secretary of state from implementing a straight-ticket ballot;
  • The secretary of state did not properly abide by laws she says give her the authority to implement a straight-ticket ballot, and admitted to the fact.
    • The plaintiffs argue that even if the State Rules Act and Administrative Procedure Act give her the authority, they still require her to take certain actions — like public notice, a period for public comment, public hearings, and the release of an explanatory statement with legal citations.
  • Straight ticket voting “Unduly and Unequally Burdens the Ballot Access of Independents, Minor Parties, and Minority Parties.” As such, it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the US Constitution.

“…there is no concomitant benefit to voters to providing a straight party ticket item – it is, if anything, one more thing for the voter to decide upon. And especially given the Secretary’s defiance of both the clear mandate of the people’s elected representatives in the legislature, and even of the people themselves (who were at least entitled to notice and hearing), her action cannot be allowed to stand and cripple – without legal authorization or even publicly tested justification – the electoral odds of an entire class of candidates.”

Read the full lawsuit:

It is worth noting that the secretary of state’s announcement came not long after former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson entered the race, and statewide polling showed him in a competitive position against Republican Mick Rich and the Democratic incumbent.

According to Emerson, Johnson is in second with 21 percent, while US Senator Martin Heinrich (D) is polling at 39 percent. Combining the number for all three candidate, though, only 71 percent of respondents declared a candidate they supported, meaning there are still many voters unsure of who they will support.

The thing about straight-ticket voting is that it certainly makes voting easy, but it also means independent and third party candidates are at an incredible disadvantage. The voters who select straight-ticket will likely not see the names of candidates who represent alternative parties or choices.

Unite Mexico — one of the plaintiffs in the case — has a slate of independent candidates running for the state legislature. Given how far these races are down the ballot, it diminishes the odds that these candidates — who are running in races that would otherwise be uncontested — can be competitive at the ballot box.

Take the race in House District 40. There are two names on the ballot — Democrat Joseph Sanchez and independent Tweeti Blanchett. Straight ticket voting means voters who choose this route will never see Blanchett’s name as an option in a race with only one other candidate,

Those who argue against straight-ticket voting say this doesn’t just hurt the candidates, it hinders voter choice by instilling the idea that there are no real options outside the two most dominant political parties. And in many cases, this could mean their vote doesn’t count at all.

Stay tuned for more updates on this story.

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