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.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver testified Tuesday in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration about elections. The committee heard from Toulouse Oliver and other election officials during a hearing about state and local administration. “The health of our democracy depends on informed discussions like this about the challenges and opportunities faced by election administrators across our country,” Toulouse Oliver said. “My goal today is to provide you with insight into how election administrators are coping with the new voting and elections landscape and to highlight some of the initiatives we’re taking in New Mexico to support the vital work of county clerks and their staff, poll workers, and the myriad other election professionals who make our American democracy a model for the world.”
Toulouse Oliver discussed how misinformation and election denialism since the 2020 election cycle has made the jobs of election administrators and workers more difficult.
“When many members of the public are mistrustful about the integrity of our elections, election administrators then bear the associated burdens of frivolous lawsuits, excessively burdensome public information requests, disruptive voters and poll workers, and outright threats and harassment,” Toulouse Oliver said. “One of the most important tactics to defend against the detrimental consequences of election misinformation is simply putting good policies in place that are informed by election administrators themselves.”
More: Election reform bills pass Legislature
Three such bills passed the New Mexico Legislature in the 2023 session.
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 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.
A bill that seeks to update the state’s Election Code and make it easier for New Mexicans to vote passed the Senate on a 27 to 14 party line vote after a lengthy debate. HB 4, the Voting Rights Act, 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. “Our democracy, our sacred right to vote is under threat and this requires a strong community driven response. That’s why this bill is before this body today,” Sen. Katy Duhigg said. Duhigg, a Democrat from Albuquerque, described the bill, and focused on the Native American Voting Rights Act.
A bill that would expand the state’s Election Code passed the Senate Rules Committee on a party-line 5-2 vote on Monday.
HB 4 aims to 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. “Despite a lot of recent progress in strengthening voting opportunities for all New Mexicans, New Mexico still lags behind other states and our percentage of citizens that are registered to vote, and the number of folks who exercise that right at election time and this tells us that despite the the excellent work that our secretary of state has done for many years, we still have more work to do. Which is why the New Mexico Voting Rights Act is here before you,” bill co-sponsor Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque said. More: Voting rights expansion passes House
Duhigg offered an amendment that passed the committee
A section of the bill could leave the state open to litigation under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. The amendment removed section three of the bill which concerns voter information dissemination.
Lawmakers spent 7½ hours Friday listening to testimony and debating a complex and controversial bill supporters say would expand voter access but opponents contend would lead to election fraud. The Senate Rules Committee approved an amendment striking a provision from Senate Bill 8 that would have allowed 16-year-olds to vote. The chairman, Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto of Albuquerque, then abruptly ended the hearing before a final vote on the New Mexico Voting Rights Act. “It’s a long day, but this is an important bill,” Ivey-Soto said in an interview Friday night. “It deals with important rights and important issues [affecting voters].
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she is optimistic the bill aiming to expand voting rights will be passed and signed during this legislative session. SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, would expand voting rights in the state in a number of ways, including by allowing 16- and 17-year-old individuals the right to vote in local and state elections, allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to be eligible to vote upon release from prison and allowing individuals to automatically be registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles with the option to opt out if they choose. Related: Advocates hopeful voting rights legislation will help break down barriers for the formerly incarcerated
“I’m extremely optimistic about SB 8 going through the legislative process,” Toulouse Oliver said during one of the two virtual rallies hosted by Progress Now New Mexico* on Wednesday to support the bill. “We’re in a really good position even in this late hour first hearing in committee.”
SB 8 was heard in the state Senate Rules Committee Wednesday. Toulouse Oliver gave an overview of changes to the language being introduced in a substitute bill that clarified language from the first bill.
The city of Albuquerque’s 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage special on Wednesday was both a celebration of the 19th amendment and a reminder of the darker moments behind voting rights. A bevy of women speakers, from political leaders like Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to young women pledging to vote for the first time this year, talked about the importance of voting and frequently referred to it as a way to make their voices heard. Many also spoke about the struggle for women of color to gain the right to vote even after the passage of the 19th amendment. Social justice advocate Pamelya Herndon, executive director and founder of KWH Social Justice Law Center and Change, brought up the education requirements that some Black voters faced for a century in some states after the Civil War ended as just one impediment. Herndon said the historical social justice leader and “leading male feminist of his time,” W.E.B. Du Bois said that “in order for the Black race to be lifted, every single Black person must have the right to vote.”
The women’s suffrage movement distanced itself from the concept of Black women having the right to vote in the early years of the effort because the suffragettes didn’t want to alienate the white Southern women involved in the cause, according to historians.
In December, the Department of Justice requested that the Census Bureau add a question to the 2020 survey that would ask respondents to reveal whether or not they are U.S. citizens. Since ProPublica first reported the DOJ’s letter, civil rights groups and congressional Democrats have announced their opposition, arguing that in the midst of President Donald Trump’s immigration crackdown, the question will lead many people to opt out of the census, resulting in an inaccurate population count. A lot is at stake. The once-a-decade population count determines how House seats are distributed and helps determine where hundreds of billions of federal dollars are spent. But one question regarding the December letter remained unclear.