What the primary election tells us

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By Merilee Dannemann

An old saying reminds us that it’s generally a bad idea to preach sermons on attendance.
Since you are reading this column, you are – obviously – a reader of your local newspaper, which means you stay informed about your community. You probably voted in the recent primary election. Good for you!
So it’s not necessary to explain to you why voting in primaries is important. I just wonder about some of your neighbors.
Voting in the general is going to be more challenging this year for some voters because the Secretary of State has removed the option to vote a straight-party ticket by filling in one fat little dot on the ballot. If you were in the habit of doing this, you have some work to do before November – to learn something about the candidates at every level. If you have already done that, good for you again!
As you know, in New Mexico you must be a registered Democrat or Republican to vote in the primary. Roughly 240,000 New Mexicans, or 20 percent of registered voters, were registered in neither of the two major parties. That’s a lot of people volunteering to disenfranchise themselves.  
New Mexico is considerably better than average in party registration as a percentage of registered voters. Nationally, it is widely reported that voters are dropping out of the two major parties, and there are now more independents – about 40 percent of voters — than either Democrats or Republicans.
In New Mexico, according to Secretary of State statistics, we are 80 percent registered in the two major parties. Out of a total 1,192,551 registered voters (as of April 2012), we have 574,748 Democrats, or 48 percent of voters, 379,537 Republicans, or 32 percent, 203,378 voters – 17 percent -- in the “decline to state” or DTS category, and 34,888 or 3 percent of voters in minor parties.
Even among party-registered voters, turnout was low.
It’s important to remind voters that the endlessly publicized presidential contest is only one decision out of many. Every general election sets the direction for our Legislature and other positions that affect our lives at the state and local level. The primary election is where we decide who will go on to compete in the general, and, in today’s highly charged partisan environment, where we make critical choices between moderates and hardliners.
In some cases, the primary is your only chance. I counted seven state senate and seven state representative districts in which the primary was the only contest, with no opposition from the other party. That was also true in District 3 of the Public Regulation Commission, with four Democrats and no Republicans running in heavily Democratic Santa Fe. Two district court judge contests and six out of 13 district attorney races were one party only. These numbers do not include the uncontested races in which a single candidate was unopposed.  
I have never understood the logic of registering as a DTS voter. All it does is make you ineligible to vote in primaries. If you register Republican or Democrat, you still can vote any way you want. You were never forced to use the “straight party” button that is now being eliminated. There is no requirement to be loyal to a party platform. Some voters are DTS because they are offended by both parties, but voting in a party’s primary may be one step to making it less offensive.   
Rs and Ds probably receive more annoying mail, donation solicitations and robo calls than independents. You don’t have to donate and you can hang up on the robo calls. And no matter how you are registered (or even whether you are registered) the only way to escape the disgusting TV commercials this fall will be by the nonpartisan act of turning off the TV.  
Contact Merilee Dannemann through triplespacedagain.com.