SANTA FE – The New Mexico Supreme Court on Wednesday blocked a ballot option that would have allowed voters to select candidates from a particular party in all races by marking a single box.
The court made its decision after listening to oral arguments about a plan from the state’s top elections regulator to reinstate straight-ticket voting in the November general election.
In a unanimous decision, the court found that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver did not have authority to impose such a change,
The court sided with critics who argued that it was the Legislature that must make such decisions through a public process and that any changes be based on data about voter behavior.
“Did the Legislature intend to delegate its discretionary authority over straight-party voting to the secretary of state? It clearly did not,” said Justice Judith Nakamura.
While disappointed with the ruling, Toulouse Oliver said she will continue to find other ways to encourage voter participation ahead of the midterm elections. Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, will be on the ballot as she is running for re-election.
She initially billed the change as a way to make voting more accessible. The move drew immediate criticism from the Republican Party of New Mexico, Libertarians and even some Democrats who described it as partisan maneuvering. Some critics immediately questioned the legality of Toulouse Oliver’s decision, pointing to a vote by the Legislature in 2001 to abolish straight-ticket voting.
There were also concerns about the change coming just two months ahead of the election, as New Mexico and other states work to address threats of hacking and other cyber security issues.
Had the voting option been allowed, New Mexico would have bucked the national trend as straight-party voting is a vanishing practice.
Only nine states allow it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Several states have abolished it since the 1990s, most recently in Texas with legislation enacted last year that will take effect in 2020.