November 21, 2018

Secretary of State talks turnout, support for same-day voter registration

Matthew Reichbach

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

The staff at the Secretary of State’s office is still working on elections as the final statewide canvass approaches next week, but also looking forward to the upcoming legislative session.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver spoke to reporters Tuesday about the elections and legislation she will back in next year’s session when lawmakers meet.

Toulouse Oliver said she was “very, very, very pleased with the overall turnout,” which was the highest midterm turnout in decades in New Mexico.

She questioned if the increased midterm turnout was due to the current political climate or efforts by the government and others to facilitate voting or a combination of both.

“We had a very active, engaged electorate this year in New Mexico this cycle, and that’s a positive, that’s a plus,” she said. “I think moving forward the goal is to sustain that level of participation in a midterm election and to grow it.”

She also addressed vote-counting in Doña Ana County: on Election Night, absentee ballots weren’t fully counted and reported until the night after polls closed.

Republican congressional candidate Yvette Herrell, who lost to Xochitl Torres Small, sued last week  to impound the absentee ballots. A judge ruled earlier this week that the impoundment will take place after the statewide canvass is completed.

“I feel confident that the county clerk and her staff are following statute and following procedures,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Meanwhile, her office has been working on the statewide canvass—which produces the final, official totals in elections—and approval from the state canvassing board on Nov. 27.

“Everytime we do a canvass we learn a lesson about something,” she said.

Looking forward

The Secretary of State’s office is also looking ahead to the legislative session, when a number of bills related to elections will be up for discussion. And with a larger Democratic majority in the House, more progressive legislation is likely to pass that chamber.

Toulouse Oliver said she will actively support same-day voter registration. Currently, fifteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-day voter registration, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

“There’s no technological reason why we couldn’t safely engage in same-day voter registration,” she said. Toulouse Oliver said the voter would likely need to provide additional information, like a drivers license number, as is required when someone registers online.

Supporters of the effort say it would reduce another barrier for voters, leading to better participation.

Toulouse Oliver also reiterated her support of open primaries, citing a large number of New Mexico voters who are not members of any major party, but wish to participate in primaries.

More people voting in primaries, she said, will lead to higher participation in general elections.

“Participation begets participation. If you go vote once, that in and of itself makes you more likely to vote in the future than almost any other predictor of voter behavior,” Toulouse Oliver said.

The state’s attorneys are still deciding how to respond to a lawsuit over open primaries from a national organization, which thinks not allowing everyone to participate in primaries equates to taxation without representation, but wouldn’t provide further details.

Toulouse Oliver also weighed in on ranked-choice voting, which she said she isn’t likely to be expanded to state elections. Ranked-choice voting takes place in Santa Fe and Las Cruces elections currently.

Toulouse Oliver said she believes ranked-choice voting “works best in a non-partisan environment where you have a wide variety of candidates” and it keeps municipalities from needing expensive runoff elections.

Some other adjustments Toulouse Oliver will be looking at are technical fixes for the Local Election Act, which consolidated local elections in an attempt to increase turnout on those elections, and seeking a more stable source of funding for the office, which has relied on supplemental state spending to do all its work.