In a 5-0 decision that removes a late-breaking obstacle from Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson's insurgent Senate bid, the New Mexico Supreme Court today struck down a unilateral move two weeks ago by Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to reinstate the Land of Enchantment's "straight ticket" ballot option, whereby voters can select a political party's entire slate of candidates by filling out just one oval.
The New Mexico state legislature—with the signature of then-Gov. Gary Johnson—had in the process of changing voting mechanisms in 2001 repealed the part of the election code specifying that ballots had to "permit each voter…to vote a straight party ticket in one operation." It took the 2010 election of a Republican Secretary of State, Dianna Duran, to finally remove the one-punch option from the state's ballots, after which Democratic lawmakers have periodically tried and failed to legislate the option back.
Toulouse Oliver, who had been talking up the virtues of straight-ticket balloting on grounds of making voting easier months before Johnson suddenly entered what had previously been a sleepy Senate re-election coronation for incumbent Democrat Martin Heinrich, nevertheless provoked widespread claims of partisan skullduggery with her Aug. 29 decision, which came without so much as a single public hearing.
"Until the legislature makes a decision one way or the other, the Secretary of State cannot," Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said when handing down the decision. "This power is theirs alone, and the Legislature has indicated its intent to thoroughly regulate how ballots appear."
The successful court challenge was filed by the state Libertarian and Republican parties, as well as Democratic write-in candidate Heather Nordquist, and the independent-supporting Unite New Mexico.
"This is a longer-standing, much more complete decision than I thought we would probably get today," New Mexico Libertarian Attorney General Candidate Blair Dunn, who filed the initial complaint, told NM Political Report.
Gary Johnson, meanwhile, was ecstatic.
The state Supreme Court decision comes just a week after the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals reinstated Michigan's 2015 legislative ban on the straight-ballot option, and seems to cement the notion that courts aren't fond of either bureaucrats or judges usurping the will of state legislators when it comes to this type of voting mechanism. Combined with the recent trend of states dropping the device, one-punch will now only appear in eight states this November: Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas (which is ending the practice in 2020), and Utah.
Today's victory for independents and third-party candidates comes as a welcome tonic, but the default electoral reality remains rules and regulations written by self-interested members of the two largest political parties, at the expense of any would-be competitors. Just yesterday, for example, the Arizona secretary of state ruled that the Libertarian Party will not feature any candidates on the November ballot for the first time in 20 years, due directly to a 2015 law that Republicans passed deliberately to blunt the growing influence of the nation's largest third party.
As Libertarian Party National Chair (and Phoenix mayoral candidate) Nicholas Sarwark tweeted after the New Mexico news:
Libertarians don't want any special treatment from the election authorities around the country, we just want them to stop helping our old party opponents cheat.— Nicholas Sarwark (@nsarwark) September 13, 2018
Photo Credit: KVIA