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BREAKING: New Mexico court blocks straight-ticket option

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By Associated Press

The New Mexico Supreme Court is blocking a ballot option that would have allowed voters to select candidates from one particular party in all races by marking a single box.

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The court made its decision Wednesday after listening to oral arguments about a plan from the state's top elections regulator to reinstate straight-ticket voting in the November general election. The court found that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver did not have authority to impose such a change.

Critics of the practice say it primarily harms independent, minor-party and Republican candidates in a state dominated by registered Democrats. They argued in court that state law doesn't clearly say whether authority to design ballot forms extends to substantive decisions about straight-party voting, and that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver should have consulted the public through the rulemaking process.

Secretary of State Spokesman Alex Curtas said before the hearing Wednesday that if the court ruled in favor of the injunction, the ballot would have to be reorganized.

"We would have to talk to the vendor," Curtas said. "We can't predict what this is going to look like just yet."

The Republican Party of New Mexico released a statement following the ruling. "Democratic leaders attempted a corrupt, partisan power grab in order to rig elections and undermine our system of democracy," said RPNM Chairman Ryan Cangiolosi. "The Secretary of State's move to stack the deck in favor of her party just months before Election Day was so brazen that it was called an act of 'vicious partisanship' by a State Senator from her own party. Our democracy is built on the principle of free and fair elections, not corrupt partisan maneuvering that leads to one-party control."

"This is what you get from a political party that cares about power instead of people. Over and over, Democrats have attempted to rig elections in favor of their preferred candidates. They failed this time because the Supreme Court recognized that New Mexicans deserve leaders who will fight for our democracy instead of undermining it for their personal benefit."

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in a statement following that the decision was a “blow to voter access in New Mexico.” “Today’s decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court is a disappointing blow to voter access in New Mexico. We should be expanding voting rights and accessibility but, instead, this decision limits the options voters have when casting their ballots and makes voting less convenient,” Toulouse Oliver said. “While I stand by my position that straight-party voting is a reasonable option, I respect the judges’ decision and will abide by it. While there will not be a straight-party voting option on the November ballot, New Mexicans can rest assured that I’m committed to ensuring the safety and security of our elections and I will continue to expand eligible voters’ access to the ballot box in as many ways as I can.”

She continued, “In light of this decision, I am recommitting myself to working toward expanding voter access to the ballot box and advocating for policies such as same-day voter registration, open primaries, and – potentially – vote at home initiatives, in order to better serve New Mexican voters down the road. I hope that those who have opposed the straight-party option, but at the same time claim to support increased voter accessibility, will work with me to enact these important policies that will help more voters' voices be heard at the polls.”

Her opponent in November, Republican Gavin Clarkson, said the decision was a victory for the rule of law. “Today’s unanimous decision is a total victory for the rule of law and for trust in our public institutions. The role of the Secretary of State is not to make law, but to enforce the laws passed by the people’s elected representatives,” Clarkson said. “Today’s ruling is also good news for New Mexicans of all parties, or no party, who are tired of arrogant machine politics and who don’t want to see public officials weaponizing their offices for partisan advantage.”

Clarkson continued, “We need a new Secretary of State who isn’t a radical ideologue, someone with the business background and legal expertise to restore impartiality and integrity to our state’s election system.”

Steve Pearce, candidate for Governor, issued the following statement, applauding the decision.

"I applaud the New Mexico Supreme Court's unanimous decision to protect our electoral process from the corrupt attempt by the Secretary of State to rig this November's election in her party's favor. Thanks to New Mexicans from all viewpoints and political parties who spoke out against corruption. Today's unanimous Supreme Court decision is a victory for the rule of law."

Monitor Staff writers contributed to this report. This is a developing story.