February 21, 2015

One bill advances, another tabled in voter ID discussion

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Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted to pass one bill related to voter ID, while the more strict version was tabled. However, lawmakers on the panel hinted that portions of the stricter bill will appear in the next version of the legislation that passed.

Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

The committee saw two different bills related to voter ID on Saturday in a lengthy hearing.

The first—called a compromise bill by sponsors Rep. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque—passed on a party-line 6-5 vote with Republicans in favor.

The other, a more strict voter ID bill—was sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad—was tabled on an 8-3 vote, with three Republicans voting against it.

Ivey-Soto, who presented HB 61, said, “There is no systematic voter fraud in the state of New Mexico.”

He said that there was anecdotal fraud, but it was not widespread.

“I believe that even one vote that is falsely cast is harmful to the system,” Brown said, later saying just because a crime is rare that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have laws to stop it.

“I have never said that voter fraud is systematic or systemic,” Brown said near the end of the committee hearing. “But it can happen under the current law.”

Democrats argued that it was a solution in search of a problem or at the very least an overreaction.

“The voter suppression that a significant voter ID bill would cause severely outweighs the one-in-a-million voter fraud issue that occurs,” Rep. Moe Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said.

Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Milan, wasn’t happy that the legislation comes back year after year.

“We’re killing 700 trees to save nothing,” he said. “Because it’s not happening in New Mexico. I’m tired of it.”

Voter ID has been a perennial issue by Republicans in the House of Representatives, but one that was usually quickly tabled in the first committee when controlled by Democrats. However, with the takeover of the House of Representatives by Republican members, Voter ID has suddenly become legislation that is likely to reach the House floor and likely pass.

The committee amended HB 61 twice before sending the bill to the next committee.

One would change a requirement of absentee voters to provide a full social security number as one mode of identification for absentee ballots to the last four digits of the social security number.

The other amendment added a component asking the Secretary of State to “conduct a statewide effort” to educate the public about the need for new identification. That language came from HB 340 and other language from that bill could find its way to the bill during its next stop in the House Judiciary Committee.

Shortly before the committee voted on the two bills, Brown said she would be open to “combine the best elements of both” pieces of legislation to craft a stronger bill. She did say repeatedly she beleived her version was the stronger and more effective version.

The Secretary of State’s office said this statewide effort could include television, radio and other advertisements statewide.

Democrats, and many voting rights advocates, said the effort would make turnout even lower than it was in 2010, when the state saw record-low turnout. They said that the state should not be adding additional barriers to voters.

Republicans said that the state legislature and federal government had made many efforts to make voting easier and perhaps that was the reason why voters believed their votes didn’t count.

“I think if it’s a little bit harder, then their vote would mean more,” Rep. Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City, said. Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Belen, later said she wondered if people didn’t believe their votes counted because

Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Corrales, said that she didn’t believe minorities would be effected by the legislation.

“I don’t know any African-American that does not have an ID with their picture on it,” Powdrell-Culbert, herself an African-American, said.

Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage, R-Shiprock, said that the idea that Native Americans don’t have photo identification is outdated.

“Say a decade or two decades ago, this indeed was true,” she said. “A lot of our people did not have photo IDs because a lot of people weren’t driving. A lot of people now are driving.”

Clahchischilliage was also part of an exchange with Alcon over the voter ID laws of the Navajo Nation.

Rep. Ken Martinez, D-Grants, said that he knew people who had no ID or access to a birth certificate. “They’re not mythical, they’re real,” he said.

Martinez, a lawyer, said he represented people who had no birth certificate, driver’s license or tribal ID, which under the bills would likely disqualify them from voting. When he represented them, he said baptismal certificates were the only identification information they had.

The president of the New Mexico County Clerk’s Affiliate said that the county clerks supported the less strict version and opposed the bill put forward by Brown.

Ken Ortiz, the chief of staff for the Secretary of State’s office said, Dianna Duran and her office supported Brown’s bill and opposed the bill put forward by Smith and Ivey Soto.

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