March 19, 2019

Same-day, automatic voter registration and more: How elections and voting bills fared in 2019

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With a larger majority in the House this year, Democrats passed a number of changes to the state’s voting system as part of the flood of legislation sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. Some had passed only to be vetoed by former Gov. Susana Martinez, while conservative Democrats killed other efforts before reaching the governor’s desk.

The bills included some progressive priorities, including expanding disclosure of campaign finance information and expanding automatic voter registrations.

Passed

Early & Auto Voter Registration (SB 672)

In the past, conservative Democrats blocked the expansion of automatic voter registration and same-day voting registration. Once Lujan Grisham signs the bill, as she is expected to do, beginning in 2021, New Mexico voters will be able to register to vote or update their registration at polling locations when voting. To do so, the voter will need to provide ID and sign an affidavit swearing they haven’t already cast a ballot in the election.

Agreement to Elect President by Popular Vote (HB 55)

After years of debate, this year New Mexico legislators voted to join the National Popular Vote Compact. Once states with a combined 270 electoral votes pass the compact, it will pool their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the national popular vote. Democrats across the nation have pushed for the compact in states where they are in power. Democratic presidential candidates have lost twice in the last two decades despite winning the national popular vote, including in 2016. Supporters say once the system is in place, it will allow each person’s vote to count the same. Opponents say it will cause presidential candidates to ignore smaller states and focus solely on large-population states with big cities.

Campaign Finance Reporting (SB 3)

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, has spent years trying to reform  the state’s campaign finance reporting requirements. This year, his efforts culminated in the passage of SB 3, which would expand the disclosure requirements for independent expenditures. Now, organizations that spend more than $1,000 in non-statewide elections or $3,000 for statewide elections will need to file reports with the Secretary of State. This is an attempt to shine a light on so-called “dark money” spending, from groups that can include non-profits and unions.

PRC Election & Appointment, CA (SJR 1)

The Public Regulation Commission, which is a powerful entity whose five commissioners regulate utilities and the transportation and communications industries in the state, has been a troubled agency for years. And in 2012, voters approved changes to the constitution to increase the qualifications for commissioners. In 2020, they vote on a more drastic overhaul, after legislators sent a proposal to change the commission from an elected board to an appointed board. If approved, the proposal would allow the governor to appoint commissioners in 2023.

Campaign Public Financing Changes

SB 4

Currently, state law only provides for public financing in races for PRC and judicial offices. SB 4 amends the qualifications for candidates who wish to use public financing in these races, including extending the qualifying period for a month and adds restrictions on the use of public campaign funds among other changes.

Election Laws 50-Year Tune-Up

HB 407

The bill passed the House on a 57-8 vote, then passed the Senate on a 35-2 vote. The bill mainly would make small changes to elections law, and also allow county clerks to determine locations for secured containers for mailed ballots and require municipalities to reimburse the Secretary of State for the cost of conducting run-off elections.

Failed to pass

Restore Felon Voting Rights (HB 57)

One bill that ran out of steam was the bill to allow felons to remain eligible to vote, even while in prison. Currently, only Maine and Vermont allow  incarcerated citizens to vote. In 14 states and the District of Columbia, felons’ voting rights are automatically restored after they are released from prison. New Mexico currently allows ex-felons to register to vote after they have completed their sentences, including parole or probation. A weakened version of the bill that would not allow felons to vote while in prison but to provide them the opportunity to register to vote upon release passed the House Judiciary Committee, but never received a vote on the House floor.

Primary Election Participation by DTS Voters (HB 93)

Legislation to allow independent and minor party candidates to participate in major party primary elections stalled in the House Judiciary Committee. The bill had previously cleared the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee, but failed on a 7-5 vote in the House Judiciary Committee. Previously, efforts to open primaries through the judicial system failed.

Prohibited Fundraising Period Changes (HB 310)

Current state law prohibits legislators from soliciting campaign contributions between Jan. 1 and the end of the legislative session and stops the governor from seeking campaign contributions from Jan. 1 to 20 days after the end of the session. The bill, by Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, would have prohibited them and other statewide officials from knowingly soliciting or accepting campaign contributions during the prohibited period. The bill was later amended to only stop them from soliciting campaign contributions, but stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee late in the session.