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.
The omnibus voting rights bill, SB 144, which would have expanded voting rights to many formerly disenfranchised and given protections to election workers passed the House in the final hours of the legislature but the bill ultimately failed after a filibuster by Senate Republicans . After a nearly 24-hour House debate on various bills, the House turned to the omnibus voting bill SB 144 around 7 a.m. Thursday in the final hours of the Legislature.
SB 144 began as a two-page bill ensuring the safety of election workers from intimidation. It had broad bipartisan support, receiving a unanimous due pass in the Senate chamber earlier this month. But state House Rep. Daymon Ely, of Corrales, and state Sen. Katy Duhigg, of Albuquerque, both Democrats, amended SB 144 to include measures from two other election bills, SB 6, which cleaned up and modernized language in the election code and SB 8, the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill, which expanded voting rights to many who have historically been disenfranchised and would have made voting easier and more streamlined for many.
The grafting of the three bills led to complaints from Republicans about “log rolling,” which is combining more than one unrelated bill together and is unconstitutional. Another complaint, made by state House Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, that the bill, once amended with provisions from SB 6 and SB 8, had not been vetted. Related: House committee passes ‘comprehensive’ voting bill that includes voting rights provisions
Grafting the three bills together was similar in process, Ely said on the House floor Thursday morning, to the omnibus crime bill which the House just sent to the governor by concurring with Senate changes.
The House Judiciary Committee passed an omnibus voting bill, SB 144, that includes provisions of two other voting bills, SB 8 and SB 6, on a party line vote of 9-3 Tuesday evening. After Senate Republicans blocked a Senate floor debate and vote on SB 8 over the weekend, House Democrats moved the provisions from that bill into another voting bill, SB 144. SB 144, sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, initially aimed to protect election workers from intimidation, threat or use of force or violence, damage or harm while carrying out their duties during an election. The penalty for the crime is a fourth degree felony. The bill also has already passed the Senate, removing a barrier with less than two days left in the session.
Senate Republicans pulled a legislative maneuver Saturday to successfully block debate on a governor-backed bill advocates say will expand voting rights in New Mexico but opponents contend Democrats are using for political gain. The procedure, a stall tactic known as a “call of the Senate,” requires every member of the chamber to be physically present in the Capitol for a bill to be considered. Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, unleashed the maneuver on Senate Bill 8, known as the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, at the start of the floor session before the bill was even brought up for debate. “Sergeant at arms, round up the members and lock the doors,” Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, who was presiding over the floor session, said after Brandt made the motion for a call of the Senate. Around 3:30 p.m., Stewart said Sens.
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 Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass a committee substitute to the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill that strikes back end automatic voter registration. The 6-3 vote came along party lines. The Democrats voted in favor of the SB 8’s committee substitute, introduced by state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. The Republicans on the committee voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the bill.