COMMENTARY: Over the decades, we’ve seen America’s elections become less and less competitive, and slanted towards incumbents more and more.
In this year’s election, eight of the 17 state Senate seats in Bernalillo County are uncontested, with only one person running for the office. Correspondingly, 12 of the 24 state representative seats in Bernalillo County are uncontested.
Part of this is simply due to New Mexico’s mañana culture of “I’ll get around to it when I feel like it” – with the end result (someone stepping forward to run for office) never happening.
Another part of this is the way that districting has been done in New Mexico, which heavily favors incumbents. When was the last time that a Republican stood a real chance of winning U.S. Congressional District 3, or a Democrat of winning District 2? The state House and Senate are similarly afflicted.
Here are fixes to the system that Libertarians can get behind:
Enact uniform signature requirements for all candidates, regardless of partisan affiliation, or lack thereof. Every candidate for a given office should have to get the same number of signatures, and any registered voter should be able to sign any candidate’s nominating petition. No more of this bit about having to get signatures from only people registered with one party. End the current rule that if you sign more than one candidate’s petition, all of your nominating signatures are invalidated.
End the practice of using tax dollars to fund the conventions and primaries of the “major party” organizations. Let them pay for it themselves – they’re perfectly able to afford it with all of the donations that they get from corporate special interests.
Leave the straight-party voting option off the ballot. If it does get put back on, then put straight “Yes” and “No” options for the bond issues and judicial retention spots on the ballot.
Explicitly allow ballot selfies — basically, repeal NMSA 3-8-50 (A)(1). It’s your vote, thus you should be able to tell people about it. Any statute outlawing such voluntary disclosures is a violation of the First Amendment and of Article II, Section 17 of the State Constitution.
Eliminate all forms of public campaign financing, as that forces people to support, via taxation, candidates that they wouldn’t otherwise touch with a 10-mile pole. Why should black, Latino and Jewish voters be taxed to fund a candidate fronting for the KKK or Aryan Nations? Why should LGBT voters be taxed to support someone who thinks the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t go far enough?
As with the “bake a cake” question, it’s all about freedom of association, folks. Let people support candidates of their own free will, or not at all. Maybe they have something better to spend the money on, like food, utilities, car payments, whatever? It’s their money, not yours or mine.
If you really want a form of candidate subsidies in place, let the parties do it themselves. Again, as with conventions and primaries, they have plenty of cash. As long as there’s cash in the public till and the state has the power to regulate the private sector, the donors will be there, attempting to influence the system in their favor.
Or set up a domestic non-profit LLC (something like a 501(c)(3) under the current federal tax code). Make sure its charter forbids its officers from lobbying the Roundhouse or any other governmental body, or from accepting any money from the public treasury. While you’re at it, make sure its charter also forbids its officers from making statements on any other issue while representing the organization. You do want to keep it as nonpartisan as possible, correct?
If you seriously want to give the candidates a hard time about campaign finance, don’t limit how much they can take from any one donor. Again, it’s not your money or mine, it’s the donor’s. Instead, ask the candidates about how much they received, and from whom. Use your rights under the First Amendment and Article II, Section 17 to tell your friends, family, whoever, about the candidates’ strengths and shortcomings — especially if the candidates’ election year ad copy doesn’t match up with what they do while in office.
I’m sure that there are many more things that can be done to fix New Mexico’s broken election system without making government bigger, more intrusive or more expensive. Who has the courage to make them happen?
Mike Blessing moved to Albuquerque in 1994 and has been active in the libertarian movement since 1996, writing for The Libertarian Enterprise, as well as letters to the editor to various newspapers, and ran The Weekly Sedition on Albuquerque’s Channel 27 from 1997 to 2011. Mike also has a personal blog at Nemo Me Impune Lacessit.