NM House endorses expanding voting rights and ballot access
Democratic sponsors of the New Mexico Voting Rights Act say more people would be registered to vote and have access to the ballot were it to become law. Many Republicans argued on the House floor late into the night Tuesday that certain provisions could compromise election security. The House backed the bill after three hours of debate.
House Bill 4 co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. Gail Chasey, warned on the House floor of threats to voting rights nationwide.
“In this country, the franchise is a birthright, or it’s the right of naturalized citizens,” she told her colleagues as she introduced the measure. “It’s not a privilege. It is our civil right. It is our most sacred civil right.”
The bill would expand voting rights locally, creating an automatic registration system through the MVD, where rather than having to opt in, a voter could opt out if they wanted at a later date. It would also allow people convicted of a felony to register to vote more easily and sooner— once they’ve completed their prison term rather than their probation or parole. Chasey said that provision would impact around 17,000 New Mexicans.
Registered voters could get an absentee ballot every election with just one request if the bill became law. Those ballots could also be returned to one of two required permanent drop boxes in each county or a polling place on Election Day, which would be a school holiday.
Republicans introduced several amendments they said would enhance security. Those included requiring identification to vote, removing the permanent absentee voter option, making ballot drop boxes optional and keeping voter registration an opt-in system rather than automatic. All were unsuccessful.
The bill would enshrine the Native American Voting Rights Act in statute. But the only successful amendment does away with a provision in that section designating people to assist tribal voters with absentee ballots. Bill co-sponsor, Democratic Rep. D. Wonda Johnson of Gallup, said her community had expressed concern that it needed more work, “to ensure that the rights and privacy of Native American voters are fully protected,” she said. “We need more time to get that perfect.”
The bill passed with the amendment on a 41-26 vote and now heads to the Senate for consideration. A similar bill failed to pass last year after Republican Sen. William Sharer
ran the clock out on it at the end of the session.