ALBUQUERQUE (AP) – Contradicting the chairman of the state Republican Party, Gov. Susana Martinez said Thursday she would support a Democratic plan allowing voters without a party affiliation to cast ballots in New Mexico primary elections.
The Republican told the Albuquerque Journal she supports the idea because it is important for all voters to be allowed to participate in primaries.
“Just because they don’t see themselves as completely Republican or completely a Democrat doesn’t mean that they don’t have candidates that they want to vote for, but because they haven’t declared a party aren’t able to vote at all,” Martinez said.
Those remarks stood in stark contrast with an earlier statement by New Mexico Republican Party Chairman John Billingsley, who said allowing independent voters to participate in major party primaries would “dilute” elections and diminish party values.
After hearing of Martinez’s support for expanded primaries, the Republican Party chairman said he would reconsider his position, according to party spokeswoman Emily Strickler.
“There are forms of partial (expanded) primaries that he could warm up to, so to speak, but there definitely needs to be more details,” Strickler said.
New Mexico has for decades allowed only registered Republicans or Democrats to participate in their parties’ respective primary elections. Some independent and “decline-to-state” voters contend they are disenfranchised by the system.
On Thursday, Sen. Bill O’Neill and Rep. Emily Kane, both Albuquerque Democrats, formally announced plans to push legislation in January to expand primary election voting to include independent and decline-to-state voters.
Supporters say the change is needed in light of dismal primary election turnouts, including the June election, in which about 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.
The proposal would not allow Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries or Democrats to vote in Republican primaries, O’Neill said. That option has been pushed by reformers nationally to combat what they say are divisive politics that prevent lawmakers from getting anything done since party hardliners typically are elected in closed primaries.
On Wednesday, Democratic Party Chairman Sam Bregman said he had dropped his opposition to expanded primaries and now backs the effort to include independents and decline-to-state voters as a way of increasing voter engagement.
Kane, one of the prospective sponsors of the primary election legislation, said she welcomed the governor’s support.
“That makes me very hopeful,” Kane said. “That’s really good news. I really believe it’s a nonpartisan position.”