January 7, 2015

Republicans hope to pass Voter ID legislation

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The seal of New Mexico outside the state capitol building. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

The seal of New Mexico outside the state capitol building. Photo by Matthew Reichbach

Republicans have introduced legislation requiring photo identification to vote for years. Now with a majority in the House, Republicans hope this is the year that this legislation finally becomes law.

From 2009 to 2013 Rep. Dianne Hamilton, R-Silver City, was behind the bills outlining voter ID requirements or penalties for voter fraud. In the past two years, the bills have also been sponsored by Reps. James Smith, R-Sandia Park, and Cathrynn Brown, R-Carlsbad. None have made it out of the committee process.

This year, Smith is again carrying a bill that would require an ID to vote. House Bill 61 doesn’t appear to be as stringent as some of its predecessors, but it does do away with language that allows voters to identify themselves verbally or through a written statement.

While voters would be required to identify themselves with a government or school issued identification card, the bill states that the form of identification, “may or may not contain an address, and if it does, the address is not required to match the voter’s certificate of registration.” There is similar language regarding the card’s expiration date. Smith could not be reached for comment.

Some Democratic lawmakers don’t see a need for picture based identification. Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, said stricter identification standards will result in voter disenfranchisement. He acknowledged that Smith’s bill may be less restrictive for many voters, but he insists a new voter ID law is not necessary.

“The issue still remains that we have a system of voter identification in New Mexico,” Candelaria said. “We have checks and balances in place that have been effective at rooting out very rare instances of fraud when they occur.”

Candelaria pointed out that one of those instances was brought to light by Albuquerque resident Carlos Villanueva, Candelaria’s onetime primary opponent for his seat in the Senate. In 2014, two years after they faced each other, Villanueva reportedly requested and received three absentee ballots through the mail using names of deceased voters.

Candelaria said if New Mexico’s district attorneys started prosecuting individuals involved in voter fraud, the “funny business will stop.” He said that even if people are trying to expose instances of fraud, they are still not exempt from the law.

“Let’s say that I am not terribly confident that my bank is keeping my money safe. So, I decide to go rob the bank to prove that it’s possible for the bank to be robbed,” Candelaria said. “Am I then immune from prosecution?”

According to the Secretary of State’s election handbook, current acceptable forms of identification are a verbal or written statement, a utility bill or bank statement and an identification card. Secretary of State Dianna Duran could not be personally reached for comment, but her campaign website states,

“Dianna Duran supports photo Voter ID as one of the means of securing your vote—making sure your vote is not stolen by someone else.”

Her campaign website continues, “Showing identification is one simple, easy means of ensuring that no one takes the ballot of another voter, or that an ineligible voter is allowed to cast a vote.”

No other bills outlining specific voter requirements have been filed in either chamber of the Legislature so far.

Candelaria has filed a bill that would allow New Mexicans to register to vote through the state’s health care exchange and Smith has filed a bill that would allow the Secretary of State’s office to share voter roll information with other states for verification purposes.

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