Guv signs civil rights commission, election, budget solvency bills

On Friday afternoon, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed three pieces of legislation from the special session which ended earlier this week: a bill to create a state civil rights commission, a bill to aid in voting amid a pandemic and a solvency bill related to the budget. Other pieces of legislation, including the revised budget, remain on her desk. The governor can issue line-item vetoes of bills that include an appropriation, including the budget. She has until July 12 to decide on those, though the new fiscal year begins on July 1. The civil rights commission bill was one of the pieces of legislation aimed at police reform that passed the Legislature this year.

Election changes pass House after revote

A scaled-back election overhaul lacking a key provision that would have allowed clerks to mail every registered voter a ballot for the November general election is on its way to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk following a dramatic revote after first failing to pass the House. After three hours of debate, the House rejected Senate Bill 4 in a 38-32 vote Saturday that included many Democrats opposing the measure despite it being a priority of Lujan Grisham and other Democrats. But a subsequent vote to “reconsider” the legislation passed, and after hours of closed-door caucus meetings, a second vote on the legislation cleared the House floor 44-26 without any amendments, rescuing the bill from the legislative graveyard. House Speaker Brian Egolf and other Democratic leaders persuaded fellow Democrats to support legislation they opposed just hours earlier byreminding them of other provisions in the bill that are meant to help ensure a safe election during the pandemic. “We basically decided to [prioritize] a safe election, an election where absentee ballot programs can be meaningfully done without late-arriving ballots, without vendors and processing being such a problem like in the primary we just went through,” Egolf said in an interview after the House adjourned.

Senate approves key change to New Mexico primary election process

New Mexico senators approved a new measure Friday that would allow independent voters to cast ballots in primary elections by registering with a major party on Election Day, potentially opening up primaries to a wider swath of the population. The surprise amendment was added to an elections reform bill that aims to streamline the voting-by-mail process if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing during November’s general election. The amendment, which was proposed by Sen. John Sapien and passed with bipartisan support, would allow voters not registered with a major party to affiliate with one when they arrive at polling stations to vote. Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who was the lead sponsor on the main bill, said the change would prevent situations that take place under current law, in which voters unaffiliated with a major party arrive to vote in primaries but aren’t able to. “Right now, you’ve got people who in their mind affiliate a certain way, who may want to show up to vote but right now their only option is to be turned away,” said Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque.

Watered-down version of election reform bill clears Senate panel

A Senate panel significantly watered down a bill late Thursday that aims to streamline the voting-by-mail process if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing during November’s general election. Senate Bill 4, which is backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, had proposed to allow county clerks to automatically send mail-in ballots to registered voters without requiring people to request them. But after a three-hour debate, the Senate Rules Committee voted to strike that provision from the bill. Under the revised bill, people would still need to apply for absentee ballots before receiving them. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, proposed the amendment after Republicans on the panel expressed concerns that automatically mailing ballots would put election security at risk.

Guv: Legislators can discuss police reform, election changes during special session

This week’s special session will, as expected, include more than just budget matters, the governor’s office announced Wednesday. While the state must address plunging revenues, which would result in an unbalanced budget, something that is not allowed according to the state constitution, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham also said that non-budget items would include police reform efforts, election changes and tax relief for small businesses. The special session, which will begin at noon on Thursday, is necessary because of the economic impact of COVID-19 and the restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the disease. Only legislation that is put on the call can be passed during special sessions. Some legislators have said they should only address budget issues during the special session and that other issues can wait until the regular legislative session in January.

Secretary of state pushes for temporary automatic mail election

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is advocating for legislation during this week’s special session that would extend the deadline for counting absentee ballots in the November general election and allow county clerks to automatically send ballots to all registered voters prior to Election Day, her office said. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toulouse Oliver and a couple of dozen county clerks in the state had pushed for a mail-only primary election to protect poll workers and voters from risks of contracting the viral illness. The state Supreme Court rejected the clerks’ request, however, saying the Legislature would have to approve a change in law to allow mass distribution of ballots by mail to voters who haven’t requested one. Spokesman Alex Curtas said Friday the secretary of state still supports an emergency provision allowing ballots to be sent to voters without an application. She also backs other proposals that could streamline the general election, he added.

Poll: Biden, Luján lead in New Mexico after primaries

A new poll, commissioned by NM Political Report and conducted by Public Policy Polling, found that Democrats lead in the races for U.S. Senate and president in the state and that voters in the state approve of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic more than they do of President Donald Trump’s. Trump’s campaign has said they will target New Mexico as a potential pickup in his reelection effort, but polling across the country in recent weeks has shown presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden with a lead over the incumbent in key swing states. The poll found that Biden leads Trump 53 percent to 39 percent in New Mexico, with 8 percent unsure. Biden leads among Democrats, 80 percent to 14 percent, while Trump leads among Republicans, 85 percent to 12 percent. But Biden has a large lead among independents, 52 percent to Trump’s 30 percent, with 18 percent not sure. 

Biden has a large lead among Hispanic or Latino voters, 68 percent to 22 percent, while Trump leads among white voters, 53 percent to 41 percent.

Chief Justice Nakamura to retire in August

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura will retire in August, according to an announcement from the Administrative Office of the Courts. 

Nakamura became the first Republican woman elected to the high court in 2016 and became the court’s chief justice in 2017. She is currently the sole Republican on the bench. “In my years on the bench, I’ve always strived to not only make the best legal decisions possible but to improve people’s lives and advance the administration of justice,” Nakamura said in a statement. 

The announcement did not say why she was retiring, but said Nakamura’s last day as Chief Justice will be August 1. Nakamura was first appointed to the state Supreme Court by then-Gov. Susana Martinez in 2015. In an email to members of the State Bar of New Mexico, the Administrative Office of the Courts also announced that the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission will meet next month to discuss nominations for Nakamura’s replacement.

Santa Fe, Taos counties need more time to count votes amid flood of absentee ballots

Most of the state completed their tallies of ballots, including absentee ballots, but election officials in Taos County and Santa Fe County received permission from district courts to extend the time needed to finish tallying absentee ballots. The two counties, like many others, received an unprecedented number of absentee ballots for a primary election, and numbers that even dwarfed high-turnout general elections in the past. It isn’t clear how many votes were cast by absentee ballots, but as of 5 p.m. on Election Day, county clerks had received more than 246,000 absentee ballots. In the 2016 primary, county clerks statewide received 23,066. Santa Fe County on its own received more than the statewide total in the 2016 primary.

Progressive Democrats defeat incumbents, with some races still pending

Tuesday night proved to be a night of historic upsets against state Senators who have long held onto their seats. Much of the action was on the Democratic side, though it appears two Republican incumbents also lost their primaries. State Sen. John Arthur Smith, after 32 years in the state Senate and the most powerful legislator as chair of the Senate Finance Committee, is extremely likely to lose to grassroots challenger Neomi Martinez-Parra. Smith represents SD 35. He more than doubled Martinez-Parra in donations.