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More provisions dropped from voting rights bill

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver
Susan Walsh
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver

A bill that would expand voting rights in New Mexico has lost more key provisions as it moves forward in the state Senate.

The New Mexico Voting Rights Act, or SB 8, passed in the Senate Rules Committee earlier this week after a number of amendments were rolled into a substitute bill. As the Judiciary Committee took it up Wednesday, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto submitted another substitute.

Co-sponsor Sen. Katy Duhigg sits on both committees.

“It’s very frustrating to have folks walk in with a sub with a bunch of new language that we don’t have a chance to look at and consider,” she told her colleagues. “I don’t even know if it is different from what we passed out of Rules. And if it is different, I don’t know if it’s better or worse.”

The committee then painstakingly moved through each change to ensure members – all but two of whom had passed the prior version just days earlier – understood what was in front of them.

The aspects of the bill that were dropped include Election Day becoming a state holiday and eligible voters being automatically registered after visiting the MVD.

Other changes include shifting the minimum number of secured ballot drop boxes from a more complex formula to two, regardless of the number of voters in a county, and allowing municipalities and school districts among others to request one. Also, the effective date for the majority of the bill moved up to July 2022 from January 2023.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who has championed the legislation along with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said while she'd like to have seen those provisions stay in the proposal, she's focused on the bigger picture.

“I am not willing to sacrifice this piece of legislation for one particular provision,” she told committee members during the hearing.

The bill would still allow people convicted of felonies to vote upon release from prison and create a permanent absentee voter list. Election Day would still become a school holiday in the current version.

It passed the Judiciary Committee Wednesday, Feb. 9, on a 6-3 party line vote with Republicans in opposition. It’s being heard Thursday afternoon in the Senate Finance Committee.

UPDATE Feb. 10, 6:00 p.m.: The bill passed out of the Senate Finance Committee on a 6-5 vote Thursday, with Democratic Sen. George Muñoz joining the committee's four Republicans in opposition. It now heads to the Senate Floor for consideration.

This story is part of our Your New Mexico Government project, a collaboration between KUNM 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.