February 21, 2023

Bill to let unaffiliated voters participate in primaries clears Senate

Screenshot of Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Albuquerque, address the state Senate on SB 73 which would allow New Mexico to have open primaries.

Nicole Maxwell/New Mexico Political Report

Screenshot of Sen. Bill O'Neill, D-Albuquerque, address the state Senate on SB 73 which would allow New Mexico to have open primaries.

A bill that would take a major step to open primary elections in New Mexico passed the Senate Monday afternoon on a 27-10 vote.

SB 73, if approved, opens New Mexico’s election primaries to allow voters who are not affiliated with a major party to vote in the primary of their choice.

Many of the senators who debated asked why to not go further and have fully open primaries since New Mexico taxpayer dollars pay for elections.

Sen. Bill Tallman, D-Albuquerque, agreed with several of his Republican fellow senators that unaffiliated voters pay for the election as do party-affiliated voters which may be considered to disenfranchise those voters during the primary.

“Obviously, when you allow more people to vote, it’s simply more democratic. As you may know, the unaffiliated is one of the largest parties we hit,” Tallman said. “It’s really a baby step. It’s not a full blown open primary but it’s a step in the right direction.”

Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, asked about who pays for elections and said he was flabbergasted by the statement confirming that even people who are not currently allowed to vote in a New Mexico Primary are paying for it.

“Wow, I might just need a few seconds to let that sink in, that’s pretty wild,” Schmedes said. 

State Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, argued that those who do not state a political party were “not getting involved” in a “deeper commitment.”

“We shouldn’t just say, well, ‘your votes are fine, but we’ll let anybody who’s not willing to do that work also, tell us who our candidate should be’,” Ortiz y Pino said. “I just see too many opportunities for people to get involved in bypassing it and just coming out to vote in the primary is not getting involved, getting involved is making a deeper commitment in that.”

As of Jan. 31, 312,540 registered voters are not part of a political party, known as decline to state in New Mexico. This makes up 22.7 percent of all registered voters.

Due to additional notices being mailed out due to more voters in an open primary, additional costs will accrue, the Fiscal Impact Report states.

“According to the (Secretary of State’s) office, these costs would vary based on size of the precinct and number of voters within who are unaffiliated with a major party,” the report states. “However, generally the office reports it spends $500,000 to notify voters per election, so given that nearly one third of voters would need to be notified due to their unaffiliated status, this could result in an additional cost of $165,000, and the amount would be recurring.”

SB 73 moves to the House now where a similar bill is expected to be heard in the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee in HJR 12 which would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to ask the voters if they want an open primary similar to that as proposed in SB 73.