Locals, candidates against straight-ticket voting

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By Tris DeRoma

The Supreme Court of New Mexico is set to hear oral arguments today on whether New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver can enact straight-ticket voting in New Mexico.

Many Los Alamos officials and candidates are against changing the ballots. 

During a voting drive on the Los Alamos High School’s main campus Tuesday, county officials and students weighed in on the issue.

“I’m torn between both sides because we always want voting to be as accessible and easy as possible for folks, that way we don’t deter a voter from voting,” Maestes said. “At the same time, and I can’t stress this enough, I want folks to be informed voters… I sometimes think that accessibility might take away from that.”

The plaintiff’s suit also warned about “roll off” where voters voting straight party may forget to vote about key questions and referendums in their community. Maestas noted that Los Alamos voters would be voting on the reauthorization of the regional transit gross receipts tax question, which asks voters if they want to extend the tax beyond the 2024 sunset date. The tax supports the services, and if it goes away, will adversely impact the services the North Central Regional Transit District provides its customers.

“Questions may be overlooked, that’s definitely a possibility,” Maestas said. “We have the NCRTD (North Central Regional Transit District) question that’s going to be on there… If someone votes a straight ticket and doesn’t pay attention to the rest of the ballot…. Those transportation services are vital, and could impact those that use the service.”

However, Maestas said whatever the New Mexico Supreme Court decides today, the Los Alamos County Clerk’s Office will comply fully with the law.

“I’m excited to see what happens (today),” Maestas said. “Whatever happens, we always follow the law. Whatever they tell us to do, that’s what we’ll do.”

Los Alamos High School students Thomas Chadwick and Jon Doorn were also getting the word out about their voting club Tuesday. The club is called “I Vote.” The club’s purpose is to educate as many students about the voting process and the general election as possible.

Chadwick also had concerns about straight-ticket voting being added as a choice on the ballot.

“I’m generally against it. A lot of people do it, and that’s fine, but I think one of the things I’d like people to be educated on is their local candidates, as well as national candidates,” Chadwick said.

Education is the key to a healthy voting process, Chadwick said.

“One of our goals is to get kids just not voting just down ballot, Democrat or Republican,” Chadwick said. “Our goal is to try and get people educated on the issues by sending out information to the student body that allows them to be educated on every single position. That’s definitely one of your goals.”

Doorn said the group will also be meeting with Maestas to train as voter registration agents.

“We’re actually arranging for the county clerk’s office to train us on Monday next week to become voter registration agents, so we can open up these registration tables without calling the county clerk,” Doorn said.

Candidates running for office also thought the ballots don’t need to make straight–ticket voting easier either.

“I think it disenfranchises voters. I think people need to think independently and across party lines if they feel the candidate represents their views and what’s important to them,” Republican candidate for House District 43 Lisa Shin said.

The Libertarian and Republican parties of New Mexico filed a stay to prevent Oliver from enacting straight party voting Aug. 30, a day after Oliver announced her plans.  Plaintiffs also include Democratic write-in candidate Heather Nordquist and two political action committees, Unite New Mexico and Elect Liberty.

“…The secretary of State has failed to respect virtually any form of legal process: she has bypassed the legislature, ignored her obligations under the State Rules Act… and violated the federal and state Equal Protection Clauses,” a statement in the plaintiff’s Sept. 10 legal filing said.

Oliver described straight-ticket voting as another option New Mexicans can use for casting their ballots.

“Like absentee voting and early voting, straight-party voting gives New Mexicans another option for casting their ballot. Voters can choose to use straight-party voting, if they decide it will work best for them. They can also choose to fill out the ballot for each individual race,” Toulouse Oliver said in a press release.

The plaintiffs took issue with this statement in their Sept. 10 filing also, saying Toulouse-Oliver “completely” ignored its repeal of straight-ticket voting in 2012.

“In her announcement on Aug. 29, 2018, the secretary completely ignored the legislative repeal of straight-party voting,” the plaintiffs said.

The New Mexico Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on the issue 1:30 p.m. today in Santa Fe.