The June 2022 primary saw the first full-fledged use of same-day registration, where voters wanting to cast a ballot for the first time, or after a lapse or a change of address, did not have to make it happen weeks in advance.
They could simply appear on Primary Election Day — or during the early voting period — with the proper identification, get registered and vote. It’s a reform that advocates, including the secretary of state, had been working on for years to enfranchise as many people as possible, even the procrastinators. It finally came to pass.
Simultaneously, another change allowed independents or “decline-to-state” voters the opportunity to vote in partisan primaries — if, and only if, they changed their registration to any of New Mexico’s three major parties: Democrat, Republican or Libertarian.
This was not the fully open primary that many advocates had wanted where independents could ask for a ballot of their choice without changing their registration. But it was a heck of a lot better than the usual completely closed primary system, which disenfranchised about 23% of our voters who are registered DTS and hence could not vote at all in primaries, where many races are decided.
This baby-step to a truly open primary was as far as the Legislature was willing to go, and it came about in 2020 as a last-minute alteration sponsored by former Sen. John Sapien (D- Corrales) to another election bill. The law went into effect this year.
The combination of those election updates enabled over 10,000 voters statewide to participate in the June primary who wouldn’t have been able to otherwise.
Sadly, turnout was still lackluster, just 25% or so, slightly less than in the last governor’s race in 2018 when it was 27%.
A little more than 2,000 of the new primary voters were former DTS voters, who divided their choice of parties almost evenly between Democrat and Republican. And the others were same-day registrant voters. The added participation is an incremental victory for democracy.
In addition, the election was a clean, quiet affair, unmarred by the obstructive threat that characterized elections two years ago. A number of groups, including Common Cause, the ACLU of NM and Native American Voters Alliance fielded scores of volunteers to assist voters and solve problems both inside and outside of polling places. Most questions were logistical involving the new registration system.
Also, in the weeks preceding the election, the secretary of state rolled out a website to dispel rumors and misinformation, “Rumor vs. Reality.” It set the record straight on the safety of ballots and the accuracy of the count here in New Mexico. The measures may have pre-empted disturbances.
But there were signs of low turnout ahead of the primary. The extremely negative TV advertisements used in the Republican governor’s primary between Mark Ronchetti and Rebecca Dow, and, on the Democratic side, in the attorney general’s race between Brian Colón and Raúl Torrez, likely turned off voters.
The scorched-earth attacks are usually reserved for the general, but the battlelines were drawn early this year by the well-funded campaigns.
One Republican candidate accused another of harboring sexual predators who victimized children; another Democratic candidate said the incompetence of the other caused the death of a popular basketball player.
The scorched-earth attacks are usually reserved for the general, but the battlelines were drawn early this year by the well-funded campaigns, particularly on the Democratic side where (if history means anything) the winner will almost certainly go on to become the Attorney General. By mid-May, Brian Colon had spent $1.5 million and Raul Torrez over $1 million. The final campaign reports will bring those totals even higher.
And we ain’t seen nothing yet.
With a TV personality on the ballot and challenging midterm climate nationwide, the Republicans smell blood. As Source New Mexico reported, Republican Super PACS, including the Congressional Leadership Fund, have already begun to buy airtime on local TV — to the tune of $1 million.
And national Democrats are eyeing a pickup in New Mexico’s second congressional district where Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell is expected to have a tougher time holding onto her seat inside redrawn boundaries that fold in a piece of Albuquerque. The Democratic House Majority Forward PAC already plunked down half a million for airtime on Albuquerque-based TV stations and in El Paso to reach southern New Mexico.
The ads will start sooner than you think and since they are funded by outsiders. Not linked directly to the candidates, they most likely will be negative. Very negative.
Meanwhile, in a drip-drip-drip series of 10-second ads airing during local newscasts, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, touted her deliveries of day care, tax relief, free college and other benefits to New Mexicans. She was unopposed in the primary, and with $3.7 million in her war chest as of May, she’s just begun.
Four years ago, the spending on the governor’s race amounted to about $14 million, according to Secretary of State’s Office records. This year it will certainly go even higher. For consultants, printers, advertising agencies —many of them located out of state, by the way — it’s an economic plus. For the rest of us, not so much.
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