May 9, 2016

Why it’s harder for third party candidates in NM

Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

New Mexico’s Democratic and Republican candidates are readying for a primary election in less than a month. They have been canvassing neighborhoods and raising money for weeks.

Photo Credit: bjmccray cc


Photo Credit: bjmccray cc

But they might not be the only candidates in the ballot come November.

Candidates who are members of minor parties or are independent and not part of any political party  cannot file to run until almost two months after their major party counterparts.

Robert Bridgwater, the former chairman of the Independent American Party for New Mexico, told NM Political Report that minor parties in New Mexico face an uphill battle during election season.

“We don’t have the money and exposure that they have,” Bridgwater said of Republican and Democratic candidates.

Bridgewater said there are a “tremendous amount of hoops” minor party candidates have to navigate in order to get themselves on the ballot. Political parties like the Libertarian Party of New Mexico, the Green Party of New Mexico and Bridgewater’s former Independent Party are considered minor parties and therefore are held to a different standard when it comes to petition signatures. In order to secure a spot on the primary ballot, major party candidates must collect three percent of the total of votes for that office that occurred in the last primary election for governor. Minor and independent candidate have to collect at least enough signatures to equal one percent of the votes in the last general election. This year in New Mexico Senate District 10, for example, the two Republicans facing each other in the primary each had to collect 45 signatures. The lone Democrat in the race had to collect 53 signatures for a spot on the ballot. A minor party candidate who wants to run must collect 128 signatures —a potentially overwhelming number.

Marty Swinney, the chairman of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico said it is difficult for third party candidates in New Mexico because of this requirement alone.

“The number of signatures is enormous,” Swinney said.

Independent candidates, who do not associate with any party, must collect even more signatures.

Sen. Daniel Ivey Soto of Albuquerque is a former New Mexico director of elections and a Democrat. He told NM Political Report the higher signature requirements for independent candidates ensures a level of standards for getting on the ballot.

“Nobody has to appoint them,” Ivey Soto said of independent candidates. “They don’t have a closed process.”

Ivey Soto said there’s still room for making changes to the signature requirements.

“At some point we may need to adjust these numbers,” Ivey Soto said. “We can have that conversation.”

That conversation may happen sometime in the coming months. Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing, along with former New Mexico Representative Bob Perls, plans to work on changing the process  of how minor and independent candidates get on the ballot. Perls was a Democrat when he was in the legislature.

Gessing told NM Political Report that he and Perls have been working with Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park to come up with legislation to change the signature requirements. Gessing said the proposal is still in the planning stages, but that it would simplify the process while not necessarily reducing the number of required signatures.

“Politically to make this happen we couldn’t easily say it’s going to be a lower number,” Gessing said. “This would keep that number simpler.”

The proposal, Gessing said, would require third party candidates to collect half of the total combined signatures of the respective Republican and Democratic candidates.

Besides advocating for change legislatively, Perls is also running for a spot on the Public Regulation Commission as an independent candidate. To get his name on the ballot, Perls must submit more than 3,000 signatures. If he gets his name on the ballot, Perls would face either Democratic incumbent Karen Montoya or Cynthia Hall in the general election.

Perls said he wants to disrupt the New Mexico political playing field, which he called “dumbed down.”

“I think that most people are sort of like the Stepford Wives,” Perls said.

As a New Mexico lawmaker, Perls pushed for the creation of the PRC. A self proclaimed “maverick Democrat” Perls said he often received the ire of Democrats for voting against party lines.

“You really don’t have to have a sign hanging around your neck,” Perls said.