The Corner

Elections

New Mexico’s Unilateral Ballot Change Goes to Court

The recent move by New Mexico’s Democratic secretary of state to establish down-the-line party voting might well be illegal.

A state law passed in 2001 by a Democratic legislature and signed by then-Republican governor Gary Johnson abolished the practice of straight-ticket voting, and though it continued for a few years after that, the ban was put fully into effect in 2012 by Republican secretary of state Dianna Duran. Duran’s move was recognized at the time as being in line with the law, and opponents responded to it by bringing legislation to change the law back. None of those bills were signed into law, and it has generally been understood that 2001 legislation remains the law of the land.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the official who took the probably illegal action, is pitching her move as “an access issue” to make it easier for voter participation. But it’s hard to argue that there is a significant difference in difficulty for a voter to fill in multiple bubbles instead of just one. Toulouse Oliver has received support from the state Democratic party in her endeavor, but independent Democrats have joined Libertarians, Republicans, and advocacy groups in bringing a court challenge to Toulouse Oliver’s unilateral change, on the grounds that she is not authorized to effectively make law by fiat. The secretary has cited her authority to decide the format of paper ballots as justification, but that authority is to handle the logistics of the ballot, not to introduce voting options.

Toulouse Oliver is herself running for reelection this year, which at the very least gives the appearance of corruption. The fact that she is paradoxically describing her act as an expansion of choice makes this more apparent. While New Mexico is heavily Democratic in party leaning, its actual Democratic politicians are highly unpopular; a straight-party voting option therefore provides candidates an opportunity to sidestep their own unpopularity.

States are welcome to choose their own forms of government, within reason; they needn’t model themselves on the federal government. However, there is no federalist case for advocating that states violate their own laws. While I dislike straight-ticket ballots, if that is what the state desired and passed through its legislature, I would accept it. But the state’s law prohibits them.

The petitioners are right to bring this before the courts.

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