February 24, 2017

Automatic voter registration bill dies in committee

Two Democrats joined with Republicans to kill a bill that would have automatically registered all eligible adults as voters when they obtain a New Mexico driver’s license.

Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, questioned whether the bill was necessary when the Motor Vehicle Division can already offer eligible adults the chance to register to vote.

Republicans on Thursday evening moved to table the bill in the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee. Rodella and a newly elected Democrat, Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales, sided with Republicans to stop the proposal on a 5-2 vote.

Update: Later in the week the the committee heard the bill again and, after amending it, passed it. See the details here.

Sponsored by Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, House Bill 28 had won backing from the secretary of state and good government groups such as the League of Women Voters.

Six other states have recently adopted similar programs, and voting rights advocates say automatic voter registration leads to a simpler, more inclusive election process.

They didn’t sway Rodella.

“People should choose for themselves whether they want to participate in the process or not,” she said.

Roybal Caballero said that the process would still allow voters to opt out while ensuring voter registration records are more accurate. And legislative staff wrote in an analysis that the system Roybal Caballero proposed could be more efficient for state driver’s license offices because they would uniformly register everyone who is eligible.

But in an analysis of the bill, the Taxation and Revenue Department raised concerns that a breakdown in the process could leave some voters listed as unaffiliated when they might prefer to register with a party, potentially excluding them from participating in primary elections.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @andrewboxford.