Guv signs sweeping new voting rights bill into law

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a voting rights expansion into law on Thursday. 

HB 4 updates the state Election Code by expanding voting rights across New Mexico including the addition of the Native American Voting Rights Act and restores rights to formerly incarcerated felons. “For me, in particular, you know, New Mexico already is a state with expansive and productive voting rights access and protections, and that’s meaningful and I really want to say thank you to the state and all of the coalition members who have been clear about that,” Lujan Grisham said during the bill’s signing ceremony. “All the things that we have, to some degree, been able to take for granted, because we have good leadership… We cannot, in this climate, take that for granted that governors and secretaries of state and policymakers are going to be able to navigate it and we want to send a message to the rest of the country. That this is what voting protection and access should look like.”

More: Election reform bills pass Legislature

More than 50 organizations representing thousands of New Mexicans make up the coalition Lujan Grisham mentioned.

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

Election reform bills pass Legislature

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.

Only a couple of proposed constitutional amendments make it to voters

Legislators sought to start the process to change the state constitution with several pieces of legislation this year. The proposals sought to place constitutional amendments on the 2024 general election ballot. 

Only two made it through the system: HJR 5, which would extend the property tax exemption for disabled veterans, and HJR 6, which would increase property tax exemptions for honorably discharged service members. HJR 5 extends the property tax exemption, currently only available for those veterans who are 100 percent disabled and their widows or widowers to allow those that are under 100 percent disabled and their widows or widowers to qualify for the exemption. “The amount of the exemption shall be in a percentage equal to the percentage of the veteran’s disability rating determined pursuant to federal law,” the legislation states. Similarly, HJR 6 would increase the property tax exemption for honorably discharged service members and their widows or widowers from $4,000 to $10,000 with an annual adjustment based on inflation.

From left to right: Senate Floor Majority Leader Peter Wirth, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Ly. Gov. Howie Morales at a press conference in the Governor's Office Cabinet Room March 18, 2023.

Governor, legislators look back at the 2023 session

Republican and Democratic legislators voiced their thoughts on the 2023 legislative session shortly after it ended on Saturday. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham held a press conference with Democratic leadership from both the House and Senate. Lujan Grisham opened the conference with a note on bipartisanship and the sometimes prickly interactions between the legislative and executive branches. “This is not easy. Solutions take each of our areas of expertise and our priorities and passions and put it together,” Lujan Grisham said.

Rep. T. Ryan Lane

House responds to tweet about House minority floor leader and his son

With the session winding down with days to go, members of both parties in the New Mexico House of Representatives spoke in solidarity with House Minority Leader Rep. T. Ryan Lane, R-Aztec, during a Wednesday floor session following a March 8 tweet referencing Lane’s introduction of his son on the floor. Evan Lane spent his 17th birthday at the Roundhouse being honored by his father Rep. Lane on March 8. “Now he’s a very special, special young man and I know I’m biased because I’m his father, but I want to share a bit about the transformation that he’s done in the last couple years,” Lane said. 

Evan started working out and getting into wrestling two years ago, the elder Lane said. “Growing up as a kid, (Evan was a) very sweet, young man, great personality, very funny, not very athletic, not very motivated, if I can be frank for a minute,” Lane said. “About two years ago, he decided he was going to change things in his life… he’s found a tremendous amount of self discipline, to the point where he started getting up a few times a week in the morning around 5 a.m. Wake himself up, go workout, got into wrestling and it’s been very inspirational for his mother and I to see that kind of self-motivation and self-transformation that’s taking place within him and I know it will serve him well for the rest of his life.”

ProgressNow New Mexico* Energy Policy Director Lucas Herndon was watching the floor session that morning and made a Twitter post referring to Lane’s introduction of his son on the House floor on March 8 as “toxic masculinity.”

Lane spoke to the NM Political Report about the tweet.

Campaign finance updates fail in House

The House voted down a bill sought to modernize the Campaign Reporting Act. SB 42 sought to simplify campaign reporting compliance for some elected officials and to provide more sunshine on campaign finances. The bill failed on 33-36 vote. Legislators debate portions of the bill that would change the way loans to candidates from family members would be reported. There were questions about how the difference between a loan from a family member to help fix a home issue such as plumbing or roofing was different from a loan toward the candidates campaigning. 

There was also discussion about the restricted times during legislative sessions when a legislator may receive a donation through the mail but not cash it until after the legislative session concluded.

Bill updating election code passes House

The state House of Representatives approved a bill that updates the state Election Code on a 44-25 vote. SB 180 requests an update the state’s Election Code including specifying when the Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA, can be used for election information, allowing electronic nominating petition signatures, creating an election security program, requiring training for election challengers and watchers, revising requirements for the impoundment of ballots, audits, voting machine rechecks and recounts, revising election-related crimes and authorizing taxpayer information to be revealed to the secretary of state for purposes of maintaining voter registration records. More: Bill updating Election Code heads to House floor

Debate on the House floor included questions from opponents about how safe drop boxes are and whether the closed circuit video from the drop boxes are subject to inspection under the state’s open records law, as well as questions about how electronic signatures for candidate nominating petitions can be used as well as paper petitions with personal signatures. Majority Floor Leader Gail Chasey said while presenting the bill that no ballot boxes are connected to the internet which has been a worry by those who falsely claim the 2020 presidential election results were not accurate. 

More than 60 lawsuits were filed contesting election counting processes. These lawsuits either failed, were dropped or are ongoing.

Constitution revision commission bill passes House Judiciary

The House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would revise the state constitution via a commission. Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon, D-Milan, was the sole vote against the bill, which passed 8-1. “This bill addresses the constitutional revision commission as one of the three ways by which we can amend our constitution,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces said. “Most of us are very familiar with the amendment process by which we put the issues on the ballot and the voters vote on constitutional limits. Another way of the three is a constitutional convention.

A screenshot of the House Floor Session webcast Feb. 15, 2023 when Rep. Matthew McQueen presented HB 103 which updates the Campaign Reporting Act.

Campaign finance reporting changes head to House floor

The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed an update to the Campaign Finance Act. SB 42 seeks to simplify campaign reporting compliance for some elected officials and to provide more transparency on campaign finances. Amended to include HB 103, bill presenter and HB 103 co-sponsor Rep. Matthew McQueen, D-Galisteo, said SB 42 was previously a disclosure bill. The addition of HB 103 adds a modernization effort to align campaign finance reporting with the modern election process. “Senate Bill 42 requires out of state groups making independent expenditures of $5,000 or more to disclose the source of those funds.

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

Voting rights expansion bill heads to governor’s desk

The House of Representatives approved amendments made by the Senate  to a bill expanding the state Election Code on a 42-25 vote Monday. This is the final step for the bill before it goes to the governor’s desk. HB 4 would 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. One of the Senate amendments to the bill is a definition of incarceration. “‘Correctional facility’ means a jail, prison or other detention facility that is used for the confinement of an adult, whether operated by the state or a political subdivision of the state or a private contractor on behalf of the state or a political subdivision of the state,” the bill states.