February 17, 2022

Senate Republicans kill omnibus voting rights bill in final hours of session

The omnibus voting rights bill, SB 144, which would have expanded voting rights to many formerly disenfranchised and given protections to election workers passed the House in the final hours of the legislature but the bill ultimately failed after a filibuster by Senate Republicans .

After a nearly 24-hour House debate on various bills, the House turned to the omnibus voting bill SB 144 around 7 a.m. Thursday in the final hours of the Legislature. 

SB 144 began as a two-page bill ensuring the safety of election workers from intimidation. It had broad bipartisan support, receiving a unanimous due pass in the Senate chamber earlier this month. But state House Rep. Daymon Ely, of Corrales, and state Sen. Katy Duhigg, of Albuquerque, both Democrats, amended SB 144 to include measures from two other election bills, SB 6, which cleaned up and modernized language in the election code and SB 8, the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill, which expanded voting rights to many who have historically been disenfranchised and would have made voting easier and more streamlined for many. 

The grafting of the three bills led to complaints from Republicans about “log rolling,” which is combining more than one unrelated bill together and is unconstitutional.  Another complaint, made by state House Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, that the bill, once amended with provisions from SB 6 and SB 8, had not been vetted.

Related: House committee passes ‘comprehensive’ voting bill that includes voting rights provisions

Grafting the three bills together was similar in process, Ely said on the House floor Thursday morning, to the omnibus crime bill which the House just sent to the governor by concurring with Senate changes. He also said that tax bills are constructed in a similar fashion.

“Those of you who are on the tax committee, you see that every single year,” he said.

SB 8 was a controversial bill and after an all-day debate in the Senate Rules Committee and two other committee hearings in the Senate, Senate Republicans prevented a debate of the bill on the Senate floor over the weekend with a procedural move by Senate Republicans. Ely said during the House debate Thursday that this led him and Duhigg to combine the three election bills together into an omnibus bill.

“Rather than have a full debate on the floor, they [Senate Republicans] stopped it coming over here. That’s why we thought it made perfect sense. We’re not discussing the merits [of SB 8] for political reasons. We would take the parts the county clerks looked at and approved and plug it into this bill. But not everything; 16 year olds are not in here. Things we thought the public would appreciate and are consistent with our philosophy to the bill and are necessary to 2022 [elections are in the bill],” Ely said.

Nibert said that the county clerks’ affiliate voted against SB 144 after the House Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday evening. Ely said the clerks’ affiliate, which consists of all the county clerks in the state, voted against the procedure but not against SB 144.

There were three efforts to amend SB 144 on the House floor. The first amendment the House approved on voice vote. The amendment, brought forth by Ely in discussion with Nibert, would allow challenges to “be allowed within sufficient sight and sound of an election board,” but would not allow the challengers to photograph ballots or make any audio or video recording in the polling place.

Ely said the amendment was intended to protect the privacy of voting.

Republicans tried to pass two additional amendments, one having to do with allowing challengers to view the last four digits of mail-in voters’ social security numbers at the ballot box. Ely said he had agreed with that idea when Republicans initially floated it but has since changed his mind because of the potential for “nefarious” actors to possess too much information about voters.

The third amendment had to do with curing the ballots. Both of those amendments were tabled by majority votes and SB 144, amended once in the House, passed 39 to 30.

The Republican Party of New Mexico issued a statement after the Legislature ended Thursday congratulating the efforts of Republicans to block the voting bill. Chairman Steve Pierce called it a “dangerous election bill.”

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, also issued a statement after the Senate ended that she was “disappointed” over the Senate Republicans’s filibuster to kill the bill.

“This bill would have protected election administrators from threats and intimidation, provided automatic address updates from the MVD, training for poll challengers, and allowed for the submission of electronic nominating petitions, among much more. Many of these provisions were specifically asked for, and needed by, election administrators across the state,” she said.