Legislative Herbicide: A Bill To Get Rid Of Those Annoying Greens

But the Green Party is no garden club. . .

March 10, 2003 in New Mexico Politics | Comments (0)

Tags:

The legislative Democrats, who are feeling pretty veto proof these days, are busy rejiggering the election process. Besides the re-redistricting campaign and the weighted-vote theory in the Albuquerque city-county election, one of the more fascinating activities is the project to legislate the Green Party into obscurity.

The Greens take votes from Democrats, and so the political motive seems obvious, but the sponsor of the legislation would have us believe it is just a cost-saving measure.

The Democrat-annoying Green Party, because its candidate for governor drew 5 per cent of the vote, has regained its status under New Mexico law as an equal among Democrats and Republicans. The Greens again are a “major party” entitled to staggered placement on top of the ballot and a primary election at taxpayer expense.

But a bill escorted through the House last week by House Speaker Ben Lujan and now before the Senate redefines major party in a way to exclude the Greens. It would require any party intruding on the established two-party system to have 10 per cent of the registered voters as members. The Greens only have 1 per cent.

Lujan’s explanation was: “It’s not fair for the taxpayers to have to foot a big old bill for them to have a primary.”

His principle seems to be that it’s unfair to spend public money for the convenience of political parties representing a minority of voters. In other words, a party should choose its candidates on its own without burdening the taxpayers who are not members.

OK. Then why do Republicans, independents, Greens, Libertarians, and so forth have to foot the big old bill for the Democratic primary? The answer, of course, is that in many communities the Democratic primary is the “real” election, the one that determines the winners in the general election, because the other parties don’t need to wait until November to know the score.

To be an effective voter in some places you have to be registered as a member of the overwhelming majority party. This is not always the Democratic Party, as in Santa Fe. A few districts in Roswell, Farmington or the Albuquerque heights, for example, have an overwhelming majority of Republicans.

Regardless of which party dominates, the process seems to shut out the minorities, and so some states allow you to vote in the primary of your choice, regardless of registration. This seems fair to all taxpayers, if they are going to foot the big old bill. The present system does not seem fair.

Holding down the cost of elections is a side issue in the case of the Green primary. True, there are costs associated with designing a third party into the primary ballot, prepublication and canvassing. And in some districts all this would be aimed at two or three registered Greens. But this is a question of equity, not numbers.

If the Democrats were so concerned about election costs, why did they not vote in the legislature against creation of the costly Sept. 23 special election to ratify constitutional amendments sought by Gov. Bill Richardson? And it will attract a minor fraction of the voters who would participate if the amendments were on the next general election ballot.

BEN LUJAN

Of course there is an urgency involved, but an alternative would be an election by mail. Rep. Max Coll, D-Santa Fe, sponsored a bill to authorize mail-in ballots on constitutional amendments, arguing in a hearing that it works in other states. It encourages thoughtful participation, avoids ballot clutter, eliminates waiting in line, and so forth. “I think it would really serve the public,” Coll said.

Coll’s bill never had a chance, even if he is chairman of the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. It was buried, deep, by the House Voters and Elections Committee. The reason given by the prevailing opponents: we gotta hold down election costs. Again.

But wait a minute. The cost of a mail-in election was estimated at $250,000. The cost of the September ratification election was estimated at $900,000. Do the math!

The real issue is whether the system can tolerate multiple minority parties, which happen to be a factor in parliamentary democracies world wide. Third parties in the American system do tend to deprive the winner of an absolute majority, and in the case of the New Mexico Greens they can withhold the margin of victory. But that’s just the point. If the Greens could not have an impact on elections, they might as well be a garden club.

And what’s wrong with parliamentary coalitions? Republicans have been “coalitioning” with conservative Democrats in the New Mexico Legislature for two decades now.

No doubt it’s in the public interest to keep the ballot free of bogus parties cooked up at somebody’s kitchen table. But the Greens are not a fiction. They began by winning elections from Democrats in Taos County, where the Republicans never even bothered.

The Greens have been successful enough at this that the Republicans want to give them money. Their candidate for governor in 1994, although really a Democrat, helped defeat the reelection of Gov. Bruce King. Their candidates probably withheld the margin of victory twice in the 1st Congressional District.

The performance definition of “major,” as 5 per cent of the vote in a statewide election, seems fair enough. But suddenly the Democrats want a registration definition, 10 times higher than the present membership of the Green Party. What’s going on could have undemocratic consequences. Why not legislate minority parties off the ballot all together?

Come to think of it, by amending the 10 per cent qualification to 33-1/3 per cent, a mere one third of the voters, the Democrats could do away with the Republicans too.