- Associated Press - Monday, January 25, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Democratic state lawmakers have introduced a proposed constitutional amendment to open Democratic and Republican primary elections in New Mexico to all voters amid a surge in independent voter registration.

Currently, only Republicans and Democrats can vote in their respective primary elections in New Mexico. Critics say the system effectively disenfranchises independent voters and contributes to low election turnout.

The proposed amendment would switch the state to an open primary system in which voters can cast a primary ballot for the candidate of their preference without respect to party affiliations. That would not only allow unaffiliated voters to participate in primaries but also allow Democrats to cross over and vote in Republican primaries, and vice versa. If approved by the Legislature, the proposed amendment would go to a statewide vote in November.

About 46 percent of New Mexico voters are registered as Democrats, 31 percent as Republicans, 19 percent decline to state a party preference and 3 percent have chosen other affiliations.

The initiative was introduced by Reps. Antonio Maestas, D-Albuquerque, and Stephanie Garcia Richard, D-Los Alamos.

A legal challenge to the state’s two-party primary system on behalf of independent voters by attorney David Crum of Albuquerque is pending before the New Mexico Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit contends that allowing only Democrats and Republicans to vote in the primaries violates provisions of the New Mexico Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote in all elections.

“I would love to be able to withdraw the lawsuit and say it’s been accomplished through an amendment to the constitution,” said Ed Hollington, attorney for Crum.

The state GOP has argued that New Mexico’s closed-party system is protected by the First Amendment and that allowing independents to vote in primaries would dilute or redirect the message of the party. The office of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez did not respond to a request for comment on the proposed amendment.

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