ABQ JOURNAL: State adds 15K registered voters since year-end
By Dan Boyd / Capitol Bureau Chief
Saturday, April 9th, 2016 at 11:45pm
SANTA FE – New Mexico’s voter rolls grew by more than 15,000 voters in the past three months, a trend likely driven by interest in the upcoming presidential primary election and the implementation of a new state system that allows eligible voters to register online.
Of the 15,318 voters who registered from the end of 2015 through March 31, nearly one-third – or about 4,800 voters – did so via the online portal implemented at the start of the year, Kari Fresquez, the interim election director for the Secretary of State’s Office, said this week.
In all, there were more than 1.21 million voters registered statewide as of the start of this month, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.
However, there’s no guarantee the increase in voter enrollment will lead to a higher turnout for the June 7 primary election.
Lonna Atkeson, a University of New Mexico political science professor, said some independent voters, or those who decline to affiliate with a political party, may not realize they are not allowed to vote in the primary election under New Mexico law.
Recent attempts to allow independents and voters belonging to minor political parties to participate in the primary election have been unsuccessful to date – both in the Legislature and in the judicial system.
But Atkeson said the state’s swelling voter roles do appear to show both election-year enthusiasm and the effect of making it easier for voters to register.
“I think the fact we have online voter registration is important,” Atkeson told the Journal . “And I think there’s so much attention being paid to the presidential election, that that’s generating excitement.”
Neither the Republican nor the Democratic presidential nomination has been sewn up yet, as Hillary Clinton holds a lead over Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary race, and front-runner Donald Trump is trying fend off Ted Cruz and John Kasich on the GOP side.
New Mexico is among the last wave of states holding primary elections and, as such, is typically all but irrelevant in determining a nominee. But the stakes could be higher this year if one, or both, of the two main parties’ nominations remain in limbo when eligible New Mexico voters cast their ballots.
This year’s increase in registered voters has been more pronounced than that of at least some recent election years. In 2014, for example, voter registration went up by just 1,129 people during the same three-month period leading up to that year’s primary election.
Meanwhile, of the total number of New Mexico registered voters as of March 31, roughly 46 percent – or 561,705 – were registered Democrats and about 31 percent – or 377,715 – were registered as Republicans, with the rest either declining to state a party affiliation or being members of another political party.
Although most voters are registered as Democrats or Republicans, the 2.7 percent increase in voters affiliated with minor political parties – including the Libertarian, Green and Constitution parties – actually outpaced the growth of voters registered with major parties during the recent three-month period. There were 40,652 voters registered with minor political parties as of March 31.
The turnout was below average for New Mexico’s last presidential year primary election, with only about 25 percent of registered Democratic voters and 24 percent of Republicans casting ballots in the 2012 primary.
May 10: Voter registration deadline
May 10: Absentee voting begins (including in-person at county clerk’s office)
May 21: Early voting begins at alternative sites
June 3: Last day county clerks may mail an absentee ballot
June 4: Absentee and early voting ends
June 7: Primary election
SANTA FE NEW MEXICAN: Our View: This election, N.M. votes matter
Posted: Saturday, April 9, 2016 7:00 pm
The New Mexican
In a political year like no other, it appears that the New Mexico primary election — despite being held in June — could matter this presidential year.
Both the GOP and Democratic battle for the nomination is going the distance. Voters in New Mexico, who generally never get a choice in their party’s presidential primary — the nominee is already selected — can make a difference come June 7.
For the GOP, the race is between Donald Trump and Everyone Else, with party establishment types and moderates worried that Trump as nominee will destroy the party not just in 2016 but for the foreseeable future. They want a contested convention, with anyone but Trump being chosen on a second or third ballot. Democrats have a two-person battle, between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, a campaign that has turned increasingly nasty in recent days. It’s a fight of math (Clinton leads in votes cast and delegate count) and momentum (Sanders has been winning recent primaries and caucuses, much like Clinton did against eventual winner Barack Obama back in 2008).
New Mexicans should enjoy this rare opportunity to join what has turned into a national pastime, watched by both political junkies and average Joes and Juanas. The nation appears engaged in what happens in the presidential race. That’s a good thing, especially the increased engagement of younger voters and independents who often sit primaries out. Democracy cannot work without citizen participation.
As for the outcome in New Mexico, polling is light and there is uncertainty for both parties. Trump’s no-nonsense approach is likely to attract a segment of New Mexico’s GOP voters; Cruz comes from next-door Texas, and his brand of evangelical conservatism has its adherents in New Mexico.
The Clintons — Bill and Hillary — have a history with New Mexico. Bill Clinton was a protégé of the late Gov. Bruce King, even delivering King’s eulogy. The couple stopped in Albuquerque in 1992, on election night, and visited often (for a president, anyway) over the years. Former Gov. Bill Richardson was a Clinton Cabinet appointee, and many New Mexicans worked for the Clinton administration.
That was the ’90s, though, and a long time ago. Many voters weren’t born when Bill Clinton was president. As we in Santa Fe know, younger people and progressives love Bernie Sanders and will be organized and emphatic in their support of the Vermont senator. Enthusiasm goes a long way to winning primaries, and the more extreme members of the base in both parties often turn out in greater numbers. New Mexicans, though, have the opportunity to matter this primary season.
Trump is struggling to get to 1,237 delegates to win the nomination in the first round, and New Mexico has 24 GOP delegates at stake. Clinton needs 2,383 delegates, and even New Mexico’s 43 delegates can help her (or Sanders) reach the finish line.
As a border state, the rhetoric of this campaign, especially on the GOP side, matters. The wall that Trump is promising to build would snake across New Mexico, to the detriment of the environment and to the people who live there. His ugly rhetoric about Mexicans disgusts most New Mexicans, even those who cling to Spanish ancestry. They’re smart enough to realize that to racists, all brown skin looks alike.
GOP Gov. Susana Martinez — who endorsed Sen. Marco Rubio just before he flamed out — has called her party on its ugly language about immigrants. So far, she hasn’t weighed in on Trump v. Cruz. (And least we forget, Ohio Gov. John Kasich remains in the primary; he’s counting on being the sane choice on a third round of voting at the convention.)
Democrats have had the pleasure, until recently, of watching a substantive campaign between two smart, qualified candidates. Last week’s descent into discussions of whether Clinton is “qualified” to be president — a mistake on Sanders’ part to go there — is an exception. He has walked back his unfortunate statement. We trust the Democrats will get back to what matters, presenting their policy solutions to the nation’s problems. As Clinton stated so clearly: “I’ll take Bernie Sanders over Donald Trump or Ted Cruz anytime.” That’s the right idea.
After all, once the primaries end, both parties have to abandon rancor and unite behind their party’s nominee. The less personal the debate, the more likely a party can enter the general election united. Come November, New Mexicans have another consideration, too. Former Gov. Gary Johnson is running for president as a Libertarian.
The lengthy primary season has exposed the nation to raw politics in its best and worst. Importantly for New Mexicans, this drawn-out fight gives voters here the unusual opportunity to influence the presidential election. Let’s not pass it up.
Democratic Party of New Mexico