"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.

Screenshot of Majority Floor Leader Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, debating HB 4 concerning voting rights.

Voting rights expansion passes House

The state House of Representatives voted to pass a bill expanding voting rights in New Mexico 41-26 following three hours of a far-reaching debate. HB 4 seeks to expand automatic voter registration, restore released convicted felons’ right to vote, create a voluntary permanent absentee voter list and enact the Native American Voting Rights Act. “There are threats to our sacred right to vote in this country. In this country, the franchise is a birthright or it’s the right of naturalized citizens of this country. It’s not a privilege.

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

Voting rights bill clears its first committee

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would update the state election code. The bill passed on a party line 6-3 vote with the three Republicans on the committee voting against the bill. HB 4 would add automatic voter registration, restore a released felon’s right to vote, create a voluntary permanent absentee voter and add voting protections and improved access for Native Americans. It also makes general or local election days school holidays and allows counties to apply for more secured ballot boxes. The committee rolled over HB 4 during the Friday meeting last week due to time constraints after hearing public comment.

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

Bill prohibiting firearms at polling places advances

A bill to ban firearms at all polling places was approved in the Senate Rules Committee on a 6 to 3 vote. Polling places that are located inside schools already have this provision in place, but SB 44 would expand it to all polling locations. Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored SB 44. The bill states that, “Unlawful carrying of a firearm at a polling place consists of carrying a loaded or unloaded firearm within one hundred feet of a polling place on election day or while early voting is in progress.”

The bill allows law enforcement or other authorized security personnel to carry their firearms.

The bill’s Fiscal Impact Report notes that this would constitute a new petty misdemeanor causing those charged under SB 44 to spend up to six months incarcerated which could cost counties funding to house more inmates. “Based on the marginal cost of each additional inmate in New Mexico’s jail system, each offender sentenced to jail for this crime could result in estimated increased costs up to $9,614 to counties,” the Fiscal Impact Report states.”It is difficult to estimate how many individuals will be charged, convicted, or get time in prison or jail based on the creation of a new crime.” 

The Administrative Office of the District Attorneys state in the report that the bill would survive a Second Amendment challenge.

Trump endorses Ronchetti, Biden to campaign for Lujan Grisham

Former President Donald Trump endorsed Republican gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti on a social media account this week. “(Ronchetti) will be tough & smart on Crime, the Border and everything else!” the post stated. 

“Mark is supported by people from all walks of life and all different viewpoints – including Democratic sheriffs, former Libertarian presidential candidate and New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, and now former President Trump,” Ronchetti campaign spokesman Ryan Sabel said. 

The statement included some statements about New Mexico during Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s term as governor. “With crime at record levels and just 1 in 5 students learning at grade level, it’s not hard to see that, as governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham has made things worse and New Mexico needs to go in a different – and better – direction,” Sabel said. Lujan Grisham reacted to the Trump endorsement with a statement of her own. “Donald Trump’s endorsement of Mark Ronchetti emphasizes the clear choice in this race: I will keep delivering on the issues that matter to New Mexico families, while Mark Ronchetti would bring Donald Trump’s extreme national Republican policies to New Mexico,” the incumbent said.

Republicans block debate on Voting Rights Act

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.

Bill to restore felon voting rights passes committee

A bill restoring voting rights for felons while they are still on probation or parole cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday. Members of the House Judiciary Committee voted 6-4 to support House Bill 74, which also will make it easier for felons to register to vote as they leave prison. The vote fell along party lines, with Democrats supporting the legislation and Republicans opposing it. 

The bill will head to the floor, its sponsor, Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, said Wednesday. Chasey said restoring voting rights to people who have served their time helps them “engage in their communities and not go back to prison.” She and some two-dozen members of the public who spoke in favor of the bill said voting rights help rehabilitate former prisoners and should be granted without any sense of judgement. 

Justin Allen, a New Mexican who testified in favor of the bill, said he had served time in prison.

Poll: New Mexico voters confident in elections

Finding a polling place. Waiting in line. Filling out a ballot. Most New Mexico voters don’t seem to have many complaints about that part of Election Day. But while a new survey has found plenty of confidence in the democratic process as it plays out at the polling place, it also found plenty of concerns about the sanctity of New Mexico’s elections, whether it is the specter of hackers, the influence of big-spending campaign donors or a news media that many view as biased.

Election Day voter registration clears first committee

A bill to allow voters to register on the same day they vote cleared its first House committee Wednesday. The House, State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee advanced the proposal on a party-line vote. The bill aims to let voters register or update their voter registration during early voting or on Election Day, and vote on the same day. Currently, voters must register four weeks before the election to be eligible to vote. One of the bill’s Democratic co-sponsors, Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque, said the legislation “is the ultimate access bill to allow voters to access the electoral process as openly as possible.”

The bill would allow new voters to register on Election Day and those already registered to change their address.

Register and vote on the same day? Dems want to make it a reality

Right now, if New Mexicans want to participate in elections, they have to register four weeks before Election Day. But legislative efforts look to change that. Right now, if New Mexicans want to participate in elections, they have to register four weeks before Election Day. But legislative efforts look to change that. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, is the Senate sponsor of a same-day registration bill, which he says will help the state reach its “obligation to citizens to enfranchise their voting rights.”

“Year after year, we meet people who really are not plugged in or tuned into an election until really close to it, at which point it’s too late for people to register to vote,” he said.