SANTA FE, N.M. - Being a beacon for the dispossessed has defined our nation since its inception. Our democracy used to uplift people around the world. It made all of us proud. That we’ve lost that stature diminishes each of us. We can’t directly address the dysfunction of our national dialogue. But we can reinvigorate the dialogue we have with each other in New Mexico.
We don’t have to spend a nickel to make our elections the most fair and the most competitive in the country. In fact, some changes (e.g. mailed ballots) could save us money. With your help, we can create an electoral environment that makes us proud -- one that is fair, embraces transparency, and with a stringent ethics framework.
We can create a system that restricts special interest money, increases voter turnout, and -- perhaps most importantly -- will attract more candidates.
That’s easy to say, but hard to do because, at present, New Mexico has the least competitive state elections in the nation. Our politicians use our redistricting process to pick their voters and protect incumbents. Only 35 out of 70 -- half the legislative seats in this cycle -- have an opponent!
We’re one of only nine states that have fully-closed primaries, which are in too many cases the only elections of consequence. They are funded with public money, yet are only accessible to those who join one of the two major parties.
Our ballot access laws are some of the most unfair in the nation. In the jurisdiction in which I reside, a Republican would have needed 35 nominating petition signatures to get on the ballot as a candidate for our House of Representatives this cycle. This unaffiliated candidate needed 311.
Opening up our elections in New Mexico means reducing the stranglehold that the major parties now have on them. Nonpartisan redistricting, open primaries, equal access to the ballot and ranked choice voting are all reforms that reduce the raw political power of the Ds & Rs.
This transformation is occurring across the nation as more and more people are electing to end their association with a political party. In several states, voters without party affiliation are the largest segment of the electorate. Even in New Mexico -- where unaligned voters are disenfranchised -- their ranks are growing at a much faster rate than those of the major parties. Younger voters disproportionately choose not to join parties.
These are deeply troubling times. The character of our civic discourse is at an all-time low. Nowhere is our lack of tolerance and civility more apparent than in our political dialogue. Our two-party system is to blame for setting us against each other, for our intense polarization and for the gridlock.
All of us care deeply about the well-being of our families, about our own health and about so much more. We must reclaim our humanity and recognize that we have much more in common than that which separates us.
Let’s Put People Over Party.
Editor's Note: This op-ed originally published on the Albuquerque Journal website "Journal North." It was republished by request and with permission from the author.