The Senate Finance Committee passed the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill by a narrow vote of 6-5 on Thursday after a tie vote failed to strike a $20 million allocation into a state election fund.
State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, sided with Republicans to vote against the bill.
This was the third Senate committee hearing for the bill. The previous committees amended the bill, striking some voter expansion provisions including allowing 16-year-old individuals the right to vote in local and statewide elections and backend automatic voter registration. Muñoz introduced the amendment to strike the provision allowing the Secretary of State’s office to create a permanent election fund of $20 million. The money would come from the state’s early childhood fund. Muñoz said the early childhood fund is currently “almost at $2 billion” and if the fund’s investments continue to grow at the same rate, the fund will “hit almost $3 billion next year.”
“We voted to dedicate that for children. That’s what our goal was. When you start diverting money, you should start thinking about that,” Muñoz said.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said that when her office has to replace voting tabulators, the cost will likely be $15 million or $16 million and the ones the state is relying on are about 10 years old. She said other unexpected things can happen, such as the need for extra poll workers, an increase in both postage costs and absentee voters and that costs continue to rise. She said she and county clerks have to run elections on a “deprivation mentality,” and that she has had to come to the Board of Finance in the past to ask for more money.
Muñoz said the general funding bill, HB 2, provides $5 million to the Secretary of State’s office to run elections. He said if this diversion of money from the early childhood trust fund remains in place, other departments will begin requesting similar diversions.
State Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, said she was concerned about the Secretary of State’s Office being drained of funding and having to go before the Board of Finance and be “at their mercy” to do “mandated work.”
“We cannot continue to do that,” she said.
State Sen. Bobby Gonzales, D-Ranchos De Taos, was absent during that vote leading to the tie vote, but he arrived in committee on time for the vote for the bill. The bill will be heard by the Senate chamber next.