January 25, 2019

Now is the time to modernize our voter registration system

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Carmella Salinas

Turning 18 is a big deal. It’s the age that you legally become an adult, and as such, you are given one of the biggest rights and privileges: the ability to participate in the democratic process of electing people into office to represent the needs and values of your communities.

While growing up, my parents instilled in me the value of voting and being able to voice my concerns in my local, state, and federal governments. Yet, when I turned 18, I did not register to vote, as is the case with many young Americans. Rather than focusing my time on civic privileges, my mind was set on figuring out where to go to college and how to make a living once I moved out of my parents place.

It wasn’t until I turned twenty, after much pressure from my family and friends, that I registered to vote for the first time –just in time to vote for the 1994 gubernatorial election.

Looking back, not much of the voter registration process has changed, at least not in the Land of Enchantment. People across the state still primarily register to vote through registration cards, making the process tedious, potentially inaccurate, and vulnerable to errors—costing New Mexicans precious time and money. In 2019, we should have a much simpler and efficient system to register eligible New Mexicans and update the voter rolls than we had in 1994, a system that makes registering to vote and updating information convenient, accessible, and secure for folks in rural areas like me.

While our Secretary of State has incorporated technological updates to our voter registration system by adding online tools that aid in updating voter rolls, the reality is that the internet is not a reliable resource for most New Mexicans –including me and most of my friends who solely rely on cell phone service for internet connectivity. The recent snow storm that hit our state,which knocked down cell service across the state for two days, demonstrates how web registration proves to remain a challenge for rural New Mexicans. Spotty signal and unreliable service are ongoing occurrences across Rio Arriba County, as with most communities that are not proximity to our main highways I-25 and I-40. In order to give eligible citizens in our most rural communities the opportunity to participate in the New Mexican election process, we need to do more.

This year, legislators have introduced House Bill 84 that would remedy many of the challenges faced by voters across New Mexico. Regardless of party lines, we can agree that registering to vote and maintaining up-to-date voter registration should be accessible for eligible New Mexicans. It is especially critical for our military community members who move frequently or face deployment, along with people living in remote rural areas and those with disabilities, senior citizens, and young people.

HB 84 would put into place a system that securely registers eligible citizens to vote when they interact with a state agency like the motor vehicle department. I rarely hear my friends and family telling stories of how they went to the County Clerk’s office, but I always hear about their interactions with the MVD. Most importantly, registration modernization does not obligate eligible citizens to register to vote—they can decline to participate at any point—because we must respect people’s decision to participate or not in elections.

It only makes sense that our state invests now in modernizing our voter registration system. As a mother, the last thing I want is for my children to be deprived of their right to vote, stopping them from making their voices heard, simply because our government refuses to move into the 21st Century (and beyond 1994).