Free and fair elections are the keystone to a stable democracy, ensuring the will of the people is reflected in policy outcomes produced by elected officials. At a minimum, free and fair elections require that the electorate is able to safely exercise their constitutional right to participate in elections. Voter registration remains one of the biggest and most obvious barriers to political participation in the United States. While voter registration is automatic in most industrialized democracies, the United States requires individual citizens to take the initiative to register to vote. As a result, partisan and non-partisan voter registration organizations, political parties, election officials, and other voters play a big role in registering new voters before each election cycle. Ensuring that eligible voters have reliable, and efficient access to the registration process is an essential priority for protecting the right to vote in New Mexico.
The City of Albuquerque recently concluded a city council election that generated 8.2% voter turnout, the lowest turnout rate of eligible voters since 1974. The October 6, municipal election had a mere 28,846 ballots cast out of the city’s 350,072 registered voters. This follows a similarly low turnout for the 2013 Mayoral race, and a school board election that resulted in just 3% of eligible voters turning out. Voter participation is a complex phenomenon influenced by not only individual, but also system level factors. In an effort to increase democratic participation in the state, we focus our attention on two aspects of the election system where we believe changes could yield increased turnout. In this policy memo, we begin with suggested revisions to the voter registration system, with future briefs set to discuss the consequences of New Mexico’s closed primary system, municipal voter-ID laws, and other structural barriers to the ballot box.