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No, closed primaries are nuts

December 16, 2018

Don’t be misled by Richard Block’s My View in The New Mexican arguing that open primaries are nuts (“Common sense, please: Open primaries are nuts,” My View, Dec. 2).

Actually, it’s closed primaries that are nuts. In New Mexico, our state-financed primary system excludes almost 300,000 voters who do not register with either party, and the number grows every election as voters — particularly young ones — get turned off by partisan politics and gridlock. Because there are so many races decided in primaries, these voters become bit players, increasing cynicism about the whole system and depressing voter turnout overall. Why vote when the outcome is predetermined?

It is hard to see Block’s attitude toward primaries as anything but exclusive. He mentions the Elks Club as an example of a private club where nonmembers can’t simply go vote for the candidates in their elections. True, a private club has the right to run its own business.

But we wouldn’t allow for the Elks Club to privately elect the candidate that will represent all of its members and nonmembers in government, would we? Then, why do we allow these two private clubs, the Democratic and Republican parties, to elect the two candidates for just about every single race that the rest of us can choose from, without having any say in who those candidates are?

Cynics like Block argue that an open primary system could be sabotaged. In fact, he states his intention to do so. However, the Legislature can design ways to prevent manipulation. Lawmakers should do it and not be influenced by those fearful of a change that brings new voices into the process. There is no evidence that voters in any of the 41 states that have some level of open primaries choose to cast their votes to sabotage the party they like the least.

Open primaries are part of a historic march to democracy that started with smoke-filled rooms, moved to partisan primaries and now need to open up to more than just the party regulars. Now more than ever, we need every voice.

Maria Perez, formerly director of FairVote New Mexico, is campaign manager for Common Cause New Mexico. She lives in Santa Fe.