March 23, 2023

Election reform bills pass Legislature

A "Vote Here" sign at the Otero County Fairgrounds in Alamogordo.

Nicole Maxwell

A "Vote Here" sign at the Otero County Fairgrounds in Alamogordo.

The 60-day legislative session has come to an end with sweeping changes coming to New Mexico elections, pending the governor’s signature.

HB 4 included many of the changes, including expanding voter rights. 

The bill provides voting protections and improved voting access for Native Americans through the Native American Voting Rights Act, enhances voter registration systems and voter data privacy, restores voting rights to formerly incarcerated felons, created a voluntary permanent absentee ballot list which allows voters who usually vote by absentee ballot to be on a list so they don’t have to reapply for each election, sets up automatic voter registration when updating address or presenting documents at Motor Vehicle Divisions and other state agencies and designates Election Day as a school holiday.

Once signed, the bill goes into effect in annual phases beginning in July 2023.

 More: Voting rights expansion bill heads to governor’s desk

A bill similar to HB 4 passed on March 14.

SB 180, a bill to make more technical changes to elections, also passed both the House and Senate this year after vigorous debate.

More: Bill updating election code passes House

SB 180 allows electronic signatures for nominating petitions for candidates to qualify for the primary, makes public officials’ home addresses confidential on election-related and campaign reporting documents, adds specifications for election-related Inspection of Public Records requests, creates an election security program, updates procedures for absentee ballots and improves training for election challengers and watchers.

Another bill would make it a fourth-degree felony to intimidate election officials. This includes poll workers, county clerks and even the secretary of state.

SB 43 passed the House floor on a 62-1 vote and passed unanimously on the Senate floor.

The bill defines intimidation as “inducing or attempting to induce fear.”

The bill comes from the alleged harassment some election workers, including Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, experienced following the 2020 general election.

Opening New Mexico’s primaries to those outside of the major political parties was a big topic at the beginning of the session but never gained traction among legislators, as none of the efforts went very far in the process.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has until April 7 to act on legislation that reached her desk in the final days of the session.