President Donald Trump’s bitter and baseless claims of voter fraud haven’t poisoned all of the New Mexico Legislature.
A bipartisan attempt is underway to legalize special elections that would nominate candidates for a likely vacancy in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District.
Rep. Deb Haaland would resign from the Albuquerque-based congressional seat if she were confirmed by the U.S. Senate as secretary of the interior.
Under existing state law, a few dozen members of party central committees would select the nominees to replace Haaland. Candidates chosen by the committees would compete in a special election.
Democratic state Rep. Daymon Ely and Republican state Sen. Mark Moores hate the idea of several dozen party insiders determining nominees for Congress.
Ely and Moores hope to change the system. They will introduce a bill this month to hold special primary and general elections to fill any congressional vacancy.
“I want to take it out of the backrooms. These are my friends on the central committee, but 175 people should not be deciding on candidates for 150,000-plus voters,” Ely said in an interview.
He hopes his bill to conduct special primary and general elections has a chance of receiving approval from at least two-thirds of the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Reaching that high threshold of legislative support would add an emergency clause to the bill. This means special congressional elections could be held as soon as the governor signed the bill.
The measure by Moores and Ely would still become law if a simple majority approved it, but the bill would not take effect until summer. By then, a small number of party regulars would have decided on the nominees to succeed Haaland.
Ely for a time considered writing a bill proposing an election with candidates from all political parties on a single ballot. Ranked-choice voting would have determined Haaland’s successor.
Neither Ely nor Moores likes ranked-choice voting. Its sole benefit would be eliminating the time and expense of holding primary elections.
But, Ely said, it’s already clear so many legislators oppose ranked-choice voting it could never get the necessary support to pass.
“Ranked-choice voting is not going to happen,” he said of the convoluted system that can allow second- or even third-place votes to determine the winner of an election.
This led the two lawmakers, Ely of Corrales and Moores of Albuquerque, to shift their attention to authorizing primaries followed by a special general election to choose Haaland’s replacement.
Democrats are the dominant party in both chambers of the state Legislature. They hold 64 percent of the seats in both the House and the Senate.
Still, they need Republican support to speed through a bill for a special congressional election.
“How can I win over Republicans? I have to rely on Mark to help me with that,” Ely said.
Like Ely, Moores doesn’t want congressional nominees to be selected by a small group of party leaders tucked away in a private room. Moores favors an open, democratic process.
“That’s democratic with a small d,” Moores said.
The effort by Moores and Ely for a bipartisan election bill will come during what might be a contentious 60-day legislative session.
Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad, has announced she will introduce a bill to decertify New Mexico’s electoral vote for President-elect Joe Biden.
Brown’s effort will be a waste of time and money. State lawmakers begin their session Tuesday, only 24 hours before Biden’s inauguration.
By the time Brown files her bill and it’s introduced, Biden will be president. Brown nonetheless announced she will forge ahead based on her claim that the election results can’t be trusted.
Brown’s bill is sure to die. It’s worth mentioning for one reason only: The proposal to open up the process of electing Haaland’s successor might be jeopardized if Brown’s bunker mentality spreads throughout the Legislature.
About 700,000 people live in the 1st Congressional District. As it stands, several dozen will decide who makes the ballot to succeed Haaland while the masses are silenced.
Central committees of state political parties can’t begin the process of selecting congressional nominees until Haaland resigns from Congress.
That creates an opening for Moores and Ely to try to change the selection system.
They have a chance to pass an important bill. All Brown can hope for is a sideshow that could overtake the circus.