Although I understand that the 300,000 citizens who are not members of any party feel disenfranchised and would like to have a voice in the primary elections that select the candidates for the New Mexico general election, I believe House Bill 79 is a poor solution.

HB 79 allows people to remain registered as independents but allows them to vote in the primary of their choice. However, why should any organization allow people who are not members of that organization have a voice in the operation of that organization? Does the chamber of commerce allow people who are not members of the chamber have a vote in its policy decisions or in the election of officers? What about lobbying organizations or organizations such as Kiwanis? All these organizations impact public decision-making, but I have no voice in determining their policies unless I join.

People who choose to become members of a political party help to support the party and the candidates that run under the banner of that party by donating money and campaigning on behalf of candidates long before the primary election takes place. They may also attend party meetings, encourage candidates to run for office and serve as treasurers for campaign committees.

HB 79 allows nonaffiliated voters, or voters from a different political party, to vote in the primary election of a party without any skin in the game. In fact, they may choose to vote for the primary candidate least likely to win the general election, just to skew the primary results and undercut the majority vote of party members.

An alternate solution to this issue would be a bill that requires the secretary of state to count the ballots of all independent voters and report the total vote for each candidate in each party, but not require the party to use these votes to determine the winner of the primary in each party.

I believe this approach would give a strong voice to independent voters but still allow the political parties themselves to make the decision as to whether the votes of registered independents will be included in determining the winner of the primary election and which of their primary candidates will run in the general election.

Ed Birnbaum is an emeritus professor with over 40 years of teaching and research experience in higher education institutions in New Mexico, Hawaii and Pennsylvania. He lives in Los Alamos.

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