New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she is optimistic the bill aiming to expand voting rights will be passed and signed during this legislative session.
SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, would expand voting rights in the state in a number of ways, including by allowing 16- and 17-year-old individuals the right to vote in local and state elections, allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to be eligible to vote upon release from prison and allowing individuals to automatically be registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles with the option to opt out if they choose.
“I’m extremely optimistic about SB 8 going through the legislative process,” Toulouse Oliver said during one of the two virtual rallies hosted by Progress Now New Mexico* on Wednesday to support the bill. “We’re in a really good position even in this late hour first hearing in committee.”
SB 8 was heard in the state Senate Rules Committee Wednesday. Toulouse Oliver gave an overview of changes to the language being introduced in a substitute bill that clarified language from the first bill. The Senate Rules Committee did not vote on the substitute on Wednesday but will vote on it Friday, committee chair Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, said.
Other provisions of the bill include making election day a state and school holiday; allowing absentee ballot voters to register only once for an absentee ballot; and codifying protections established in 2020 to improve access for Native American voters particularly if they live in Tribal communities.
State Sen. Carrie Hamblen, D-Las Cruces, spoke at one of the virtual rallies about the importance of 16- and 17-year old individuals being allowed to vote in local and state elections. She said that the outcomes of school board elections affect students more than the adults who vote for the candidates.
“Us older folks are not doing a good enough job of creating inspiration and helping young people in the process. We gripe and moan about young people not being interested in democracy, but it’s our fault,” she said.
She also spoke of a recent Las Cruces Public School board fight that led to the school board voting in favor of a gender inclusion policy.
“When I think back to Las Cruces, I think back to when our school board voted on an equity policy debated for several months. There was racism and homophobia and transphobia spewed by adults but young people were there saying my voice needs to be heard,” she said.
State House Majority Leader Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, also spoke during the rally and said his parents migrated to the U.S. and that he has voted in every election since turning 18.
“I take it so seriously because I know what my parents went through,” he said.
Martinez, who like Hamblen is a co-sponsor on SB 8, said the two aspects of the bill that are “absolutely critical and transformative” is making 16 and 17-year olds eligible to vote in local and state elections and creating “a true automatic voter registration system.”
Martinez called the current system where an individual has to register to vote a “backwards system.”
“It makes sense, if you chose not to be registered, it’s up to you,” he said of the proposal in which county clerks would automatically register eligible voters unless the individual chooses to opt out.
Toulouse Oliver called the legislation “a tremendous step forward for New Mexico and for this time in the nation.”
* ProgressNow New Mexico helps find funding for NM Political Report. No one at ProgressNow NM has any say in editorial decisions by NM Political Report, including the decision to report this story.