March 9, 2017

Voter registration bill dies

Democratic state Rep. Debbie Rodella joined with three Republicans on Thursday to kill a bill that would have allowed people to register to vote within three days of primary or general elections.

Eligible voters in New Mexico now must register at least 28 days before an election in order to vote in it. Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the bill to widen the time for registration, saying voting is a right and lawmakers should make it easier for people to cast a ballot.

His proposal, Senate Bill 224, would have allowed for the extended registration period at early voting sites, many of which have real-time access to New Mexico’s voter registration system. For those lacking that technology, voters would have been allowed to cast provisional ballots that wouldn’t be counted until a subsequent verification of whether the registrant was eligible to vote.

Related: A less-than automatic voter registration bill clears committee

Steinborn’s bill cleared the Senate this month on a 19-11 vote, but not a single Republican supported it. The measure’s first hearing in the House was the local government and elections committee, where Democrats have a 4-3 advantage.

But Rodella, of Española, quickly made it clear that she opposed the bill. She said prospective voters already have 11 months of the year to register and many places to do so, including their county clerk’s office and state Motor Vehicle Division offices that issue driver’s licenses.

“So, my goodness, it seems there’s so many different ways for a person to register, if they want to,” Rodella said.

She also cited difficulties that an extended registration deadline could cause. Election officials from a handful of smaller population counties, including Rodella’s home county of Rio Arriba, had testified that Steinborn’s bill would place extraordinary burdens on them.

Michele Jordan, chief of Rio Arriba County’s Bureau of Elections, said her small office already is overworked and Steinborn’s bill would make it worse.

“I’m sorry, but that would be a mandate that would not be reasonable…. You’d kill us. With the staffing we have, no way,” Jordan said.

The League of Women Voters, Common Cause, the Hispanic advocacy group LULAC and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver supported the bill, as did Doña Ana County Clerk Scott Krahling and members of his staff.

Krahling said he regards the deadline to register 28 days before an election as arbitrary. He said part of his job is to create a culture in which more people exercise their right to vote. Doña Ana is the state’s second-most populous county, behind Bernalillo.

Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, said Steinborn’s bill seemed aimed at turning what Ely called procrastinators into voters.

Steinborn disagreed. He said running in primary and general elections last year convinced him not to make value judgments about people but simply to make it easier for them to vote. Many people trying to make ends meet often don’t follow politics as closely as those in the Legislature, but they would be more likely to vote with an extended registration deadline, Steinborn said.

Rodella, though, spoke of personal responsibility. She said her parents told her to register to vote as soon as she turned 18 and she followed through. She spoke more than the other committee members who opposed the bill, but House Minority Leader Nate Gentry, R-Albuquerque, asked one question: Why not allow for registration right up to the day of the election?

Steinborn said 14 states and Washington, D.C., do just that. And the advocacy group Common Cause said voter participation in those states had increased 11 percent since they enacted same-day voter registration.

Advocates for Steinborn’s bill said they knew it would be killed as soon as Rodella announced that she opposed the measure. Joining Rodella in voting to table the bill were Gentry and Republican Reps. David Adkins of Albuquerque and Zach Cook of Ruidoso.

Contact Milan Simonich at or 505-986-3080. Follow his Ringside Seat column at