Last year during the 2022 New Mexico Legislative session, the Voting Rights bill failed to be enacted by the Senate after passage in the House. It was a 30 day session. Republican Senator William Sharer, R-Farmington, effectively killed the measure with a filibuster on the Senate floor. In order to run out the clock on the legislative session, Sharer talked about San Juan River fly-fishing, baseball rules, Navajo Code Talkers and the celestial alignment of the sun and moon during his lengthy filler buster on the Senate floor.
Last year’s bill would have done the following:
1.Established a permanent absentee voter list.
2. Allowed voters to sign up once to receive absentee ballots for every general election, rather than having to apply for one each time.
3. Established a Native American voting rights act.
4. Directed counties to offer two secured, monitored drop boxes for absentee ballots.
5. Made it a crime to threaten or intimidate state and county election officials.
6. Restored the voting rights of people convicted of a felony upon release from incarceration, rather than after they’ve completed probation or parole.
7. Allowed 16-year-olds to vote in school and city elections. (Later removed by amendment during the session.)
2023 VOTING RIGHTS ACT BILL
Democratic lawmakers have announced they intend to introduce a new Voting Rights Act bill for the 2023 legislative session and are expecting to move it forward given that this year’s session is a 60 day session unlike last year’s 30 day 2022 session. The bill is Senate Bill 180 sponsored by Albuquerque Area Democrat Senator Katy Duhigg, a former Albuquerque city clerk, and Española areas Senator Leo Jaramillo.
The new legislation removes some of the more controversial provisions from last year’s bill. This year’s legislation would phase in automatic voter registration during Motor Vehicle Division transactions, allow voters to sign up only once to get absentee ballots before every election and restore the voting rights of felons when they leave custody rather than after they complete probation or parole. The bill does not include allowing 16-year-olds to vote in school and city elections which caused intense debate last year and the filibuster that killed the bill.
Democratic leaders and sponsors of the legislation said the bill will include the following:
“1. Phasing in a system of automatic voter registration, such as during MVD transactions, for citizens who are qualified to vote but aren’t registered. Supporters say it would include an opt-out for those who don’t want to register, similar to what’s used in Colorado.
2. Creation of a permanent absentee voter list. Voters would have the option of opting in to receive ballots by mail before every election rather than having to apply each time.
3. Establishing a Native American Voting Rights Act intended to better coordinate access to the polls on tribal land and allow the use of tribal buildings as a voter-registration address for people without a traditional address.
4. Automatic restoration of voting rights for inmates exiting prison. Under the current system, they must complete probation or parole before registering to vote again. There are 21 states that automatically restore voting rights after incarceration. Another 16, including New Mexico, require someone convicted of a felony to complete their entire sentence, including probation and parole, before registering to vote.”
5. Calling for election day to be a state holiday.
PROTECTIONS FOR NATIVE AMERICAN VOTERS
Ahtza D. Chavez, executive director of NM Native Vote, said the bill includes specific provisions for Native American voters. Some of the “commonsense protections” in the bill include federally mandated language translations during early voting, the use of official tribal buildings as mailing addresses for people who don’t have traditional mailing addresses and “tribal input to accommodate tribal preferences” in redistricting. Chavez said this:
“New Mexico has been a state since 1912, but our communities, our Native communities, were only granted the right to vote in 1948,” she said. “Native Americans face obstacles at every turn throughout the political process. This bill would increase voter participation and access across the state.”
LEGISLATIVE LEADERSHIP REACT
New Mexico House Speaker Javier Martínez made it clear that the protection of voting rights will be a priority. Martínez said this:
“As other states are rolling back voting rights and restricting access to the ballot box, New Mexico will continue to work hard to ensure that we remove unnecessary barriers so that all eligible voters can make their voices heard. … Our government works better when all people, no matter their walk of life, have a voice in who represents them. [The bill provisions are] critical to safeguarding our democracy.”
Democrat House Majority Leader Gail Chasey called the legislation a “game-changing piece of legislation.” Chasey said this:
“At its core, it modernizes our elections and empowers our voters, making it easier for thousands of New Mexicans to register and to vote. … There’s simply too much at stake for our state and for our country — from reproductive rights to climate change to social justice to our economy — to allow only a portion of our citizens to have a vote.”
Republicans for their part argued they were right to block last year’s voting bill. However, they expressed willingness to pursue a bipartisan compromise on election security during this year’s legislative session . Republican Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca said this:
“Election security and integrity are more important than ever, and we will continue to engage in good faith efforts to make needed changes to our Election Code. … Last year, we followed the lead of our County Clerks and unanimously passed a bipartisan election bill out of the Senate that strengthened voter rights and improved election security. … Unfortunately, that consensus bill was hijacked and derailed in the House by the majority party.”
Democrat Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver who strenuously promoted last year’s legislation only to see it go down to defeat called this year’s proposal “a strong step forward for New Mexico.” Toulouse Oliver said this:
“This legislation, I think, is even better because it has really been spearheaded and brought to life by the advocacy community [that wants] to continue to sort of pick up the ball and continue to move it forward on advancing voting rights here in New Mexico.”
The links to quoted news source material are here:
COMMENTARY AND ANALYSIS
Last year’s voting rights bill was sponsored by Albuquerque area Democrat Senator Katy Duhigg, a former Albuquerque city clerk in charge of elections, and Corrales Area Democrat Representative Daymon Ely, who is no longer in the house having retired. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver had made passage of last year’s bill a huge priority because of election deniers only to see it go down in defeat as Republicans out maneuvered them.
Democrats in the 2023 legislative session hold a 45-25 majority in the House and a 27-15 edge in the Senate and this year’s session is a 60 day session so there should be ample time to get it enacted. Contributing to the likely passage is that the most controversial provisions have now been removed including the removal of allowing 16-year-olds to vote in school and city elections.
The one provision in new Voting Rights Act which may prove to be problematic for both Democrats and Republicans alike is calling for election day to be a state holiday. This would require governments to shut down and no doubt place great pressures on the private sector to do the same.
On November 6, two days before the 2022 general election, it was reported that nearly 437,000 people had already cast their ballot or voted absentee in New Mexico. The Secretary of State’s Office said nearly 225,000 early votes came from Democrats, while 152,000 were Republicans.
In the 2022 election, the Secretary of State reported that 91,104 absentee votes were cast, 353,479 in person votes were cast, with 101,980 election day votes cast with a total of 546,563 votes cast.
Election day voting is no longer mandated. New Mexico voters have become increasingly reliant on absentee voting and early day voting with two weeks allotted to vote any day before election day. Simply put, it is really not necessary to create another holiday. The proposed election day holiday should be scuttled so as not to jeopardize passage of the overall bill.