Straight-party voting is bad move for state

ABQ Journal, Guest Column
By Brad Winter / Former NM Secretary Of State
Sunday, September 9, 2018 

Someone told me recently that I was the least-political politician they had ever met, and I took that as a great compliment – mostly because I don’t consider myself to be a politician, even though I have served the public for years. As you know, I rarely weigh in on the opinion pages about issues. But I’m putting aside some of my nonpolitician ways to say something that I believe is extremely important for the people of New Mexico: The move by Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to allow straight-ticket voting is not right and violates the sacred nature of the Secretary of State’s Office.

Toulouse Oliver was elected to protect the integrity of elections and to serve candidates and elected officials of all parties as well as those who don’t want to identify with a party. She works for all of the state’s county clerks and all of us who vote. I admit that operating in fairness, and not politicizing the office – or any office – that oversees the political process has been difficult to achieve for many who serve the public today. But that does not mean we should quietly accept a single elected officer’s decision to affect the outcome of this election. I can speak from experience on this, having served as secretary of state in 2016 and knowing how challenging it can be to make sure that our elections are honest and that every vote is counted. 

Only nine states allow straight-ticket voting because it is so controversial. Since 1994, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas (ban starts in 2020), Wisconsin, Virginia and yes, New Mexico as well, all abolished straight-ticket voting. With this reversal, New Mexico now joins Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Utah. Why would we do that?

Straight-ticket voting promotes the election of a party, not the election of a candidate. Straight-ticket voting makes it more difficult for independents or minor-party candidates to compete against the two major political parties. At a time when voter registration is showing a solid shift toward independent identification, this move by the secretary of state seems to be nothing more than a cold ear or even a slap in the face for New Mexicans who are looking for independent voices and individual qualities in the people they elect.

By further empowering the major parties, Toulouse Oliver is weakening the people who choose to run for office and serve. She is using her power administratively and against the will of the state Legislature. New Mexico has long been characterized as unique, thoughtful and free, electing Republicans, Democrats and Independents to various offices, showing the country that our voice is indeed unique and thoughtful. I am afraid we will lose that distinction with this move to straight-ticket voting.

Lawsuits have been filed, and the fight over this issue will go on, but I encourage everyone, regardless of what happens from the Secretary of State’s Office, to pick up your ballot and consider each and every race, and each and every candidate, separately and upon their own merits. You may find that someone who is registered in a different party than you may be the best choice after all.

Winter is an Albuquerque city councilor, candidate for N.M. House District 15, and was New Mexico Secretary of State from December 2015 to November 2016.