89.9 FM Live From The University Of New Mexico
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Voting bill would change ballot drop box rules for counties

Nash Jones

A new bill to expand voting access in New Mexico seeks to clarify the ballot drop box requirement after several counties pushed back on the state’s interpretation of the rule last year. But the proposal would also reduce the requirement for nearly all counties.

In November’s local elections, the Secretary of State’s Office began requiring that counties provide two permanent ballot drop boxes, and more depending on the number of voters, to ensure adequate access.

Despite that, six counties didn’t provide any, arguing the statute’s phrasing made it optional. Four others had at least one, but fewer than required by the Secretary of State’s Office’s population-based formula, without seeking an exemption.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in a news conference Wednesday, Jan. 26, that those varied interpretations are a problem. “It’s my job to ensure that uniformity,” she said. “So, we’ve been thinking about, ‘well, how do we do that?’”

She says the solution they came to is clarifying the requirement in the New Mexico Voting Rights Act bill introduced this week. The measure states counties “shall” have monitored secured containers, not just that a voter “may” use one, which is the language currently on the books.

While more counties could come into compliance if the bill is passed, it also changes the formula, lowering the minimum from two to one except for counties required to have multiple early voting locations, which must have an equal number of permanent secured ballot drop boxes.

Statute stipulates that counties with over 50,000 voters must have at least four “alternate voting locations” during the early voting period, and those with more than 150,000 voters – which only applies to Bernalillo County, according to the most recent voter registration data – must have 15 sites.

“It’s a different way of looking at what the minimum should be,” said Toulouse Oliver. “That’s fine. Whatever kind of gets us to where voters in every county have that option.”

The new formula would require fewer permanent ballot drop boxes than the current rule does in all but three counties, with only San Juan County needing more boxes than before. The requirement for Santa Fe and Sandoval counties would remain unchanged.

This story is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM Radio and New Mexico PBS. Support for public media provided by the Thornburg Foundation.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.