January 30, 2019

Election Day voter registration clears first committee

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A bill to allow voters to register on the same day they vote cleared its first House committee Wednesday.

The House, State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee advanced the proposal on a party-line vote.

The bill aims to let voters register or update their voter registration during early voting or on Election Day, and vote on the same day. Currently, voters must register four weeks before the election to be eligible to vote.

One of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque, said the legislation “is the ultimate access bill to allow voters to access the electoral process as openly as possible.”

The bill would allow new voters to register on Election Day and those already registered to change their address. It would not allow voters to change their party registration in primaries, however.

Republicans on the panel expressed concerns about protections against possible voter fraud, though supporters said fraud is possible under current law, but isn’t taking place.

Deputy Secretary of State John Blair, who testified as the expert witness for the bill, said that while voter fraud does occur, it is extremely rare and when detected, prosecuted.

A registered lobbyist for the state association of county clerks said the group opposed the bill. Counties are worried about security, costs and internet accessibility in rural areas.

County clerks administer elections in the state, with guidance from the Secretary of State.

The Secretary of State’s office addressed the concern of internet access in the bill’s fiscal impact report, writing that most polling locations in the state print custom ballots for each individual voter, both on Election Day and during the early voting period. These systems check in numerous times throughout the day with state records. But the office plans to implement a real-time system, which “would require that a stable internet connection be available during voting at all polling locations, which is a challenge in many rural locations.”

The committee did not amend the bill before passage, but committee member Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, suggested a change that would require voters to verify they had not already voted. The bill’s co-sponsor, Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, said he would include that change before the next hearing.

The proposal still did not receive any support from Republicans, passing on a 5-3 vote.

If the bill becomes law, New Mexico would become the 18th state to implement same-day registration. The District of Columbia also allows voters to register on the same day they vote.

The bill will now head to the House Judiciary Committee.