March 29, 2016

SOS won’t say if 17-year olds will be able to vote in primaries

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Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office is not saying much about whether some 17-year-olds will be able to vote in the upcoming New Mexico primary elections. During the 2016 legislative session, a bill passed that allows those who will turn 18 before the general election to participate in primary elections. Gov. Susana Martinez signed the bill into law following the session.

Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

Photo via Flickr by Erik (HASH) Hersman

Still, it is unclear whether the Secretary of State’s office will be ready to accept votes from that age group during the primary on June 7.

The Secretary of State’s Chief of Staff Ken Ortiz told NM Political Report in an email that the office is “exploring the legal options to assure the law is implemented appropriately.”

He did not provide an answer to a direct question on whether 17-year-olds would be able to vote in the upcoming primaries.

Viki Harrison, the executive director of voting advocacy group Common Cause New Mexico, told NM Political Report that her group is planning a campaign to encourage eligible young adults to register before May 8, which is the deadline to register for the primary.

“They need to get their procedures figured out,” Harrison said.

Harrison said it is important to engage with young voters in order to keep them involved in the political process.

“Let’s make it a habit now so people vote their entire lives,” Harrison said.

The voting registration deadline and the law’s effective date only create more ambiguity as to who will be able to vote in the primary. The bill sponsored by Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, was signed into law on March 2 and set to become effective on May 18, about a week after the deadline to register for the primary election. Still, according to a state statute, voters who will turn 18 by the general election can register any time before that.

Bernalillo County Clerk and Democratic Secretary of State Candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report that her office and others throughout the state already register voters before they turn 18.

“We can, and do, receive those forms now, put them into the system and put them in a suspense status,” Toulouse Oliver said.

This means that even though the young voters registered, they are not able to vote until they turn 18. This is what currently allows someone who turns 18 shortly before the general election to vote, even if their birthday falls after the general election registration deadline.

Toulouse said she expects the Secretary of State’s office to allow some 17-year-olds the chance to vote in June and her office is now waiting on the technical aspect of how it will happen.

“The Secretary of State’s office has verbally indicated to us that that is their intent and so the only remaining question is a technical one within the system,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Recently in Ohio a judge ruled that 17-year-olds can vote in primaries if they turn 18 before the general election. Advocates on both sides of the issue in that state argued that more young people voting in the primary could greatly influence the outcome, specifically since Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been polling well with young people. It’s unclear how New Mexico’s primary will impact the presidential race as it is the last day of the national primaries.

Harrison also said she is confident that the Secretary of State’s office will allow qualified young adults to vote in the upcoming primary. She said an increase in voter turnout will ensure a better democratic process.

“This little experiment called democracy is not going to work if only 10 percent of people vote,” Harrison said.

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