SILVER CITY — The legislative session is fast approaching, and major issues like crime, education and taxes will be considered. But I’d like to suggest three voting bills that won’t be on the agenda unless citizens ask for them.
Every four years we pretend to vote for a president, when we are actually voting for state electors who will probably vote for the presidential nominee of their party, even though they don’t have to. This is a remnant of the Electoral College system that the founders planned, but which has evolved beyond their intentions.
In 2016, two Republican electors refused to vote for Donald Trump, and five Democratic electors refused to vote for Hillary Clinton. I didn’t care for those candidates either, but an elector shouldn’t defy the people’s vote. Several other Democrats tried to do the same in other states, but their votes were disqualified and replaced under a system that the Supreme Court recently said is constitutional.
For example, in Arizona, if a faithless elector tries to cast a vote different than the people’s vote, that elector is removed and replaced with someone who will. You might ask: Why even have electors? Just count the votes and decide the winner. That’s a good idea that would require an almost impossible constitutional amendment. New Mexico law goes halfway. It requires electors to vote for the winning candidate, and punishes violators with a fourth-degree felony — up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. But if the stakes were high enough in a close election, an elector might accept the punishment.
Our legislators should simply replace our short law with the statute from Arizona or some other enlightened state.
Instead of punishing crime, prevent it. If every state does this, there will never be a faithless elector again.
In a column in January, I promised (fingers crossed) that I would not write another boring gerrymandering column until 2030. I hereby break that promise.
In 2020, our state passed a law setting up an independent, nonpartisan Citizen Redistricting Committee that was neither independent nor nonpartisan. The majority Democrats retained a way to put their thumb on the scale.
The resulting gerrymander is almost certainly the reason Gabe Vasquez squeaked by Yvette Herrell in the 2nd Congressional District. It didn’t work so well here in Grant County, where Republican Luis Terrazas won re-election to the state House despite being a Republican.
It was too much to expect the Democratic majority to set up fair redistricting when Republican majorities in other states were gerrymandering as much as they could. The Supreme Court said in Rucho v. Common Cause in 2019 that cheating on district lines is as American as apple pie. In my opinion, this is in direct contradiction of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Unfortunately, no president has seen fit to nominate me to the Supreme Court. Regardless, now is the time to end gerrymandering in New Mexico for real. No one knows which party will have the majority after the 2030 Census. Even legislators who don’t care about fairness might want to fix the Citizen Redistricting Committee in self-defense.
If the people had a say in it, they would probably go for fairness, as people in several initiative states have done. We don’t have a way to override our legislators in New Mexico, but legislators do have a way to pass the buck to the people on difficult decisions. They can force a popular vote by introducing a constitutional amendment, instead of a law. That was tried unsuccessfully in the last session, but there’s more incentive this time.
Voting in Alaska this year was very different than in New Mexico. Voters of that state passed an initiative to do a nonpartisan primary and a ranked-choice general election. In the primary, all candidates run together, regardless of party. The top four advance. In the general election, voters can rank acceptable candidates in order of preference. If no one gets a majority in the first round, second-choice votes are counted, and so on, until a candidate has a majority.
Many Alaskans have a Libertarian streak that doesn’t coincide with parties. Extremist candidates may get a lot of first-place votes, but they probably won’t get many second-place votes. That’s what happened to Republican Sarah Palin — a former vice presidential candidate running for Congress. She might have won under the old system, but the majority rejected her under-ranked choice.
It’s probably a vain hope to ask New Mexico legislators to support a change this big. Many of them like the current partisan system, and fear they wouldn’t do well under a fairer one. Still, it doesn’t hurt to ask legislators to do the right thing.
Bruce McKinney is a Silver City business owner, close observer of local government and occasional troublemaker. In his column, which appears every other Wednesday, he tries to address big questions from a local perspective. Send comments and ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the author.