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Voting rights bill ekes forward in the state Senate

Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0, creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/

The New Mexico Voting Rights Act passed out of committee on a party-line vote Monday, Feb. 7, with Republicans in opposition. With the session ending next week, the bill backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham may also have a new stop to make before reaching her desk.

A version of SB 8 is finally moving out of the Senate Rules Committee a full week after first being scheduled. This followed a bill substitute Wednesday and a more than seven-hour hearing, including several amendments, Friday.

The biggest change to the bill that passed scrapped the provision allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections. Instead, Democratic Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto proposed allowing 17 year-olds who turn 18 before the next general election to vote in all elections, local or otherwise.

“This way, once you can vote you’re able to vote. In the bill, what we have is you can vote in a regular local election, but then if there’s another election after that, you may not be able to vote in it,” he explained about the provision originally introduced.

“If I got to vote, and then I’m told I can’t vote, I’d be kind of upset about that,” he added.

This and other changes brought concerns from several members that, in addition to an existing referral to the Senate Finance Committee, the Judiciary Committee should get a look at the bill to assess potential constitutional issues. With time ticking, co-sponsor Democratic Sen. Peter Wirth said he wanted to chat with the chair of that committee, Sen. Joseph Cervantes, to see if that’s needed.

“Multiple committees slows things down, but this is important,” he said. “I want to get it right. I think we all want to get it right.”

Wirth added that the bill’s constitutionality would ultimately be up to a court, not the legislature.

If the bill makes it through the Senate, it still needs House approval before the session ends Feb. 17th.
This public service 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.