Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Much Ado About Nothing in New Mexico

The legislature in New Mexico adjourned for the session last Saturday, and in the process a bill that would have moved the presidential primary in the Land of Enchantment -- and those for state and local offices held concurrently -- died in committee. SB 572 was introduced by Republican state senator, William H. Payne (R-20th, Bernalillo) on February 17, the deadline date for legislation to be introduced. The legislation would have shifted the New Mexico primary from the first Tuesday in June to the first Tuesday in March. However, once the Republican-sponsored bill was introduced in the Democratic-controlled Senate, it was referred to the Senate Rules Committee where it spent the last month of the session.

New Mexico has represented a quirky situation the last two cycles (2004, 2008). Typically, in the post-reform era, New Mexico had brought up the rear with a June primary. Though the primary remained in that position in both 2004 and 2008, a 2003 change to the primary election law allowed the parties to decide how they wanted to allocate delegates for the purposes of nominating a presidential candidate.

New Mexico statutes, Chapter 1, Article 8, Section 54 -- presidential primary, date of election:
In the year in which the president and vice president of the United States are to be elected, the registered voters of this state shall be given an opportunity to express their preference for the person to be the presidential candidate of their party in either a presidential primary election or in accordance with the selection procedure for presidential candidates of each voter's party. The presidential primary election shall be held on the same date as the primary election is held in this state.
That "or in accordance with the selection procedure for presidential candidates of each voter's party" segment of the law allowed the parties to decide where on the calendar to hold their delegate selection event. In both 2004 and in 2008, New Mexico Democrats essentially held a firehouse primary on the first Tuesday in February while Republicans in the state continued to allocate their national convention delegates using the June primary. Senator Payne's bill would have changed that, moving the primary for president and all other offices up to the earliest date on which the national parties are allowing non-exempt states to hold delegate selection events.

Unless the state GOP opts to hold its own earlier contest, it appears that delegate selection in both parties will take place during the first Tuesday in June primary in New Mexico in 2012.

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