February 27, 2023

Voter rights bill passes first senate committee

"Vote Here" signs in front of the Otero County Administration Building on New York Avenue in Alamogordo.

"Vote Here" signs in front of the Otero County Administration Building on New York Avenue in Alamogordo.

A bill that would expand the state’s Election Code passed the Senate Rules Committee on a party-line 5-2 vote on Monday. 

HB 4 aims to expand automatic voter registration, restore convicted felons’ right to vote upon release from prison, create a voluntary permanent absentee voter list, and enact the Native American Voting Rights Act to the state Election Code.

“Despite a lot of recent progress in strengthening voting opportunities for all New Mexicans, New Mexico still lags behind other states and our percentage of citizens that are registered to vote, and the number of folks who exercise that right at election time and this tells us that despite the the excellent work that our secretary of state has done for many years, we still have more work to do. Which is why the New Mexico Voting Rights Act is here before you,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque said.

More: Voting rights expansion passes House

Duhigg offered an amendment that passed the committee

A section of the bill could leave the state open to litigation under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The amendment removed section three of the bill which concerns voter information dissemination.

“We feel that section four will still address the issue and so, we don’t need that language that would potentially be a liability there,” Duhigg said.

Another issue addressed in the amendment was a further definition of “correctional facility.” The amendment expands the definition to include any facility where a person is being held on a felony count.

The third issue addressed in the amendment was codifying the current rule that allows a waiver for county clerks who believe that more than one ballot drop box is necessary for their counties.

“There’s some small counties in the state where two drop boxes doesn’t make sense and is not workable for those offices, especially given some their staffing levels and how spread out their counties are,” Duhigg said. “We wanted to codify as well this existing rule that would allow those clerks to go to the Secretary of State and request a waiver.”

The bill passed the House last week and now advances to the Senate Judiciary Committee. .