New Mexicans would be automatically registered to vote when they do business at the Motor Vehicle Division, and the voting rights of convicted felons would be automatically restored the day they get out of prison under a bill that cleared its final legislative committee Monday. House Bill 4, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 6-3 party-line vote, heads next to the full Senate. If it passes the Senate, it will need to return to the House for a concurrence vote on amendments before reaching the governor’s desk. If Monday’s hearing is any indication, the bill will likely encounter stiff opposition from Republicans on the floor. While Republicans are outnumbered in both chambers of the Legislature, a similar bill died in a filibuster in the Senate in the final hours of last year’s legislative session.
With a larger majority in the House this year, Democrats passed a number of changes to the state’s voting system as part of the flood of legislation sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s desk. Some had passed only to be vetoed by former Gov. Susana Martinez, while conservative Democrats killed other efforts before reaching the governor’s desk. The bills included some progressive priorities, including expanding disclosure of campaign finance information and expanding automatic voter registrations. Passed
Early & Auto Voter Registration (SB 672)
In the past, conservative Democrats blocked the expansion of automatic voter registration and same-day voting registration. Once Lujan Grisham signs the bill, as she is expected to do, beginning in 2021, New Mexico voters will be able to register to vote or update their registration at polling locations when voting.
Following a contentious debate, the state House of Representatives late Tuesday voted to approve a bill that would automatically register eligible New Mexicans to vote when they conduct transactions with the Motor Vehicle Division. House Bill 84 includes a provision that allows those citizens to opt out of registering or updating their existing voter registration as they apply for a driver’s license or state identity card. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver spoke in favor of the legislation during a news conference at the Capitol earlier in the day, saying, “When more eligible voters vote, our democracy wins.” She said the bill, if it becomes law, has the potential to increase voter participation by 30 percent, or, according to a fiscal impact report, some 385,000 people. Rep. Debra Sariñana, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the proposal “would make it more likely that anyone who wants to cast a vote can.”
The process is taking longer than Democrats would hope, but bills to expand voting rights are moving through the state legislature. Democrats advanced two voting bills—one, to automatically restore voting rights to felons and another to expand automatic voter registration—out of the House Local Government, Elections and Land Grants Committee on party-line votes Friday. But a bill to allow same-day voter registration failed to come up for a vote, with a visibly frustrated committee chair saying they’ll meet again on Saturday. The debate on the bill to allow felons to vote began Wednesday, including substantial public comment. Felon enfranchisement
In its current form, HB 57 would remove a felony conviction from the list of reasons why the Secretary of State could cancel a voter’s registration.
By the time the 2016 presidential election rolled around, New Mexico had one of the lowest rates of voting-age citizens registered to vote. Only two-thirds of the state’s eligible voters had signed up to cast a ballot, compared to at least 80 percent in Maine and the District of Columbia, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Perhaps unsurprisingly, New Mexico also had one of the lowest rates of election turnout among its voting-age population. One state lawmaker wants to make it easier for people to vote through an amendment to the New Mexico Constitution that would require the state to ensure every citizen who is eligible to vote is at least registered. Senate Joint Resolution 5 would ask New Mexicans to put the state among a growing number with what is known as automatic voter registration.
An automatic voter registration bill lost a bit of what made it automatic, but moved on from the House committee that previously blocked it. State Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, was one of two Democrats to previously vote against the legislation in the House Local Government, Elections and Land Grant Committee. He explained after that vote that he voted against the bill initially so he could bring it off the table, citing a parliamentary rule, and reconsider the matter. The bill was previously tabled in the same committee. Ely brought the bill back Tuesday.
Two Democrats joined with Republicans to kill a bill that would have automatically registered all eligible adults as voters when they obtain a New Mexico driver’s license. Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, questioned whether the bill was necessary when the Motor Vehicle Division can already offer eligible adults the chance to register to vote. Republicans on Thursday evening moved to table the bill in the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee. Rodella and a newly elected Democrat, Rep. Daymon Ely of Corrales, sided with Republicans to stop the proposal on a 5-2 vote. Update: Later in the week the the committee heard the bill again and, after amending it, passed it.
All eligible voters in New Mexico should be registered, and the government should do it for them automatically, three Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday in announcing a proposal to enshrine new election law in the state constitution. The legislators said their proposal for automatic voter registration would reduce costs and create a more accurate system. Another likely benefit would be more people voting and holding government accountable for policy decisions, said Rep. Liz Thomson, one of the measure’s sponsors. “The more voices we hear, the better we can represent them,” Thomson said. She is teaming on the proposed constitutional amendment with Rep. Javier Martinez and Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto.