Gov. MLG And Secretary Of State Toulouse Oliver Announce Election Law Changes; Some Good, Some Bad, Some Questionable Like Giving 16 And 17 Year Olds Right To Vote
On January 18, the 2022 New Mexico legislature will convene for its 30 legislative sessions known as the “short session.” The 30 day sessions are dedicated to budget legislation and the agenda is set by the “Governor’s Call”, meaning the Governor dictates what legislation will be considered.
ELECTION LAW CHANGES
On January 6, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced their support for enactment of major changes in the state’s election laws by the 2022 New Mexico legislature. The link to the joint press release “Governor, Secretary of State announce plan to protect right to vote, expand ballot access” is here:
The January 6 announcement was very symbolic and significant in that it was the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters and temporarily interrupting certification of President Joe Biden’s victory. An interesting side not is that on January 13, it was reported that the founder of the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, was indicted and arrested over his organization’s alleged involvement in planning the January 6 attack. An additional 10 people, including nine others who already face separate charges in connection to the riot, were also indicted.
The proposed changes to the states voting laws comes in an election year. Both Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver are up for reelection, and also on the 2022 ballot will be the races for attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer, land commissioner and 70 seats in the state House.
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Senator Cliff Pirtle, a Roswell Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that considers voting legislation, always make the tired and discredited argument that proposals to change election laws should include requiring voters to show their identification. Pirtle believes voter identification requirement ensure people qualified to vote are the only ones who actually cast a ballot, yet there is little proof that is indeed the case.
The major changes to New Mex law are sweeping and will no doubt cause heated discussion. This blog article is a discussion of the 8 proposals with commentary and analysis.
GIVING 16 AND 17 YEARS RIGHT TO VOTE
Allowing residents as young as 16 to vote in local elections, such as for city councils and school boards. This makes very little sense. Simply put, the U.S. Constitution does not allow 16 or 17-year-olds to vote in federal elections. The Twenty-Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides “The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.” The drive to lower the voting age from 21 to 18 grew across the country during the 1960s, driven in part by the military draft held during the Vietnam War. A common slogan of proponents of lowering the voting age at the time was “old enough to fight and die, old enough to vote”.
It is very difficult to understand the rational why the Governor and the Secretary of State believe now is the time to create a whole new class of voters by giving 16 and 17-years old’s the right to vote, even though it would be only for local elections, such as for city council and school boards. It is dubious to think that 16 and 17 year old’s have the maturity let alone the understanding of local municipal and school board issues.
STRAIGHT-PARTY BALLOT VOTING OPTION
The Straight-party ballot option allowing voters to choose the candidate in one party for every single race is something Republicans have always vigorously opposed. The “straight party ticket voting option” was available at one time for many decades but was eliminated by the previous Republican Administration. Republicans argue that allowing straight party voting promotes party loyalty over an informed electorate and because of the Democratic advantage in numbers, no Republican would ever get elected.
The Republican argument is absolutely bogus given the party loyalty Republicans themselves are known for, especially in the age of Der Führer Trump. Many Republicans over many years, with some saying way too many, have been elected in New Mexico to local, State and Federal office when straight party voting was allowed. Examples: Republicans Senator Pete Domenici, Congressmen Manuel Lujan, Jr. and Steve Schiff and Congresswoman Heather Wilson, Republican Governors David Cargo, Gary Caruthers, Gary Johnson, and Susana Martinez, Republican Attorney General Hal Stratton, Republican Land Commissioner Pat Lyons, Republican PRC member Herb Hughes and David King and Republicans Court of Appeal Judge Rod Kennedy and Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura, Republican County Commissioners Les Houston, Pat Cassidy, Loni Talbert, Michael Brasher, Republican Albuquerque City Councilors Tom Hoover, Nadine Bicknell, Fred Burns, Brad Winter, Trudy Jones, Don Harris, Dan Lewis and Republican Mayors Harry Kinney and Richard Berry. Currently, the Albuquerque City Council has a 5 to 4 Democratic majority but just 8 years ago it was a 6 to 3 Republican Majority.
Voters do and can make informed decisions and saying otherwise is nothing more than hollow political rhetoric. Voters are more than capable of deciding not to vote straight party in that they decide how to vote on bond questions, judicial retentions, proposed constitutional amendments and nonpartisan races such as Mayor and City Council.
RESTORING VOTING RIGHTS TO FELONS
Under the law, once a convicted felon has done their time or completed their court-imposed sentence including probation, they have paid their debt to society that should allow them to return and be productive citizen. Automatically restoring voting rights to felons who aren’t incarcerated and make it easier to register online to vote should be a no brainer. Notwithstanding, even if their voting rights are restored, the question is are convicted felons more likely have any interest in voting as is the lack of interest of many non felons.
SUNDAY EARLY VOTING AND ELECTION DAY HOLIDAY
On proposal is to expand early voting by one day to the Sunday before Election Day and to designate election day as a state holiday. These two proposals are long overdue and should be adopted. Across the country, because of the big lie Trump has promoted that he lost the election and the lie of widespread fraud , red state legislatures are enacting laws to reduce access to the polls. New Mexico already requires employers to grant employees paid time off to vote and making election day a holiday is the logical next step.
CREATING A PERMANENT ABSENTEE VOTER LIST
Creating a permanent absentee voter list allowing people to receive ballots by mail without having to file new requests makes common sense and should be implemented in some form. Being able to cast a ballot should be made as simple as possible. Repeatedly requiring a person to make a request for an absentee ballot is an obstacle that should be eliminated.
REGISTERING ON LINE WITH SOCIAL SECUTITY NUMBER
This proposal does not make sense. Allowing people to register to vote online using their full Social Security number could create an environment of identity theft. Years ago, people’s social security numbers were placed on driver’s licenses and that practice had to be abandoned. A much better system to register to vote on line needs to be proposed.
EARLIER MAILING OF ABSENTEE BALLOTS AND EXTENDING BALLOT ACCEPTANCE
It is being proposed that absentee ballots be mailed to voters one week earlier or 35 days before Election Day. The Governor and the Secretary of State have yet to provide any real rational for the additional time. Further, extending the deadline for accepting ballots to the Friday after the election, rather than when polls close, is a double edge sword that could lead to chaos in very close elections. The point is all elections outcomes must come to a conclusion and voters must bear some responsibility to get their ballots to the clerks office in a timely manner.
In a statement making the announcement of changes to the state’s voting laws, Lujan Grisham had this to say:
“Protecting voting rights is essential to upholding our democracy and ensuring New Mexicans’ voices are heard.”
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver for her part said:
“[This legislation] gives us the chance to pass one of the most powerful voting rights bills in our state’s history.”
A very strong argument can be made that at least 7 of the proposed changes in the state’s election laws will go a long way in protecting a person right to vote and even encourage voting. A major problem is that the 2022 legislative session, which is only a 30 day session, begins on Tuesday, January 18 and the bills ostensibly have not been drafted in that they have not been pre filed as is always the case with major legislation.
Changes to New Mexico’s election laws always generate partisan heated debate and accusations of potential voter fraud. Among recent changes that were controversial occurred with the enactment of the 2019 law that allows New Mexicans to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day.
Too much is at stake with the 2022 midterm elections with primary voting scheduled in less than 6 months and with new congressional and legislative districts carved out. Given the complexity of some of the election code proposals, the Governor and the Secretary of State would be wise to hold off on the proposed changes until the 2023 sixty day legislative session where there will be more time to debate and consider the proposals.