February 7, 2022

Voting rights expansion clears first hurdle

The Voting Rights Provisions bill, which would expand voting rights and access in New Mexico, passed the Senate Rules Committee hearing by party line vote of 7-4 Monday morning after a contentious, nearly nine hour hearing on Friday.

SB 8, sponsored by Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, would expand voting rights in a number of ways, including improving voting access for Native Americans and allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to vote upon release from prison. Currently, formerly incarcerated individuals can register to vote after they complete parole or probation but many face hurdles even after eligibility.

Related: Advocates hopeful voting rights legislation will help break down barriers for the formerly incarcerated

The bill would also make voter registration automatic when an individual registers for a license with the New Mexico Department of Motor Vehicles. Anyone who would not wish to be registered could opt out, election officials have said.

Several amendments were introduced on Friday that failed, but one that passed limited the provision in the bill that would have allowed both 16 and 17-year olds to vote in local and state elections. The amended bill would allow 17 year olds to vote if the individual would turn 18 by the time of the next general election. Committee Chair Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, introduced that amendment and it passed by a 6-5 vote with two additional Democrats, Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart and state Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, both of Albuquerque, voting in favor.

The committee hearing heard approximately four hours of public and virtual testimony both in favor and in opposition of the bill on Friday. Many said they supported the bill, citing issues such as the importance of expanding voting rights for individuals long disenfranchised, particularly people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals. Supporters of the bill also cited the nation’s history of excluding people of color at the ballot box and how SB 8 is similar to the federal voting rights bill which failed to pass the U.S. Senate last year.

But, many also spoke in opposition. Of those who oppose the bill, some of the concerns were giving 16 and 17 year old individuals the right to vote in local and state elections, having 24/7 drop boxes available for mail-in ballots and allowing formerly incarcerated to have the right to vote upon release. Individuals opposed spoke frequently of concerns of potential election fraud, voter privacy and individuals younger than 18 being ready to vote.

Ivey-Soto ended the hearing abruptly Friday evening saying more time was needed. On Monday state Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, said he wanted the bill to go to the Senate Judiciary Committee because of potential legal issues. The committee passed the bill with a recommendation that Wirth speak to Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, about the bill. The bill was originally scheduled to head to the Senate Finance Committee next, but the full Senate voted to also send it to Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will head next.

Update: Added the committee information.