New Mexico Open Elections (NMOE) was founded in 2015 by former New Mexico State Representative and U.S. Diplomat, Robert “Bob” Perls. When our Bob Perls returned from serving our country abroad as a U.S. Diplomat with the Department of State in 2015, he recognized that the beacon of democracy he had been lauding over the previous 6 years in four countries was not shining quite as bright. With 20 or so former political supporters and friends, they tried to do a root cause analysis of what was going wrong. Why was all the hyper-partisanship and political polarization locking up our decision-makers and ripping apart families and communities? What could we change to incentivize candidates and elected officials to actually talk and get something done?
Most of us thought the root causes were (1) the closed primary system in New Mexico, (2) the gerrymandering, and (3) the never-ending money hunt. With Citizens United, it took reforming campaign finance off the table, so they focused on open primaries, and in the last few years non-partisan primaries tied to ranked choice voting. In 2022, after being powered solely by volunteers, NMOE hired its first professional staff member, Executive Director Sila Avcil, which has led to increased capacity and impact of our organization. We partnered with legislators on both sides of the aisle to be one of the first states to move open primaries through multiple House and Senate committees. The semi-open primaries bill passed the Senate and one House committee in 2023, which is the second furthest it has ever gone through the legislature in the United States. We have come to realize that convincing incumbents to fundamentally change the way we elect, district, and finance candidates is seen by many as an existential threat to their re-election. Therefore, we are trying to educate leaders and the public that this is not about moving further left or right or center, but rather to create competitive elections that truly represent all voters. Because that is what democracy looks like!
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