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New Mexico Voting Rights Proposals Touted by Democrats as National Model

April 11, 2022 by Tom Ramstack
New Mexico Voting Rights Proposals Touted by Democrats as National Model
Election workers prepare to register voters on Election Day at a polling place, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Congressional Democrats took their campaign for voting rights legislation to New Mexico Monday, where they used a proposed state law as an example of what they say should happen nationwide.

New Mexico’s governor introduced the New Mexico Voting Rights Act in January as a way of expanding access to the ballot.

Some of the provisions would allow more online voter registration and create a permanent, voluntary absentee ballot request list.

“New Mexico shows the way toward a more inclusive and fair democracy,” said Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-N.M.

New Mexico also was one of the most aggressive states in modifying its voting laws in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Emergency regulations approved by the state legislature in 2020 lengthened absentee ballot application deadlines, gave county clerks discretion in mailing out absentee ballot applications and expanded the number of ballot drop boxes. 

The result was that “New Mexico stands out as a beacon of light in contrast to the many anti-voter bills we have seen throughout the country,” said Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, a public policy foundation.

Many of New Mexico’s measures and proposed laws are similar to pending federal legislation, such as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the For the People Act.

The field hearing of the House Administration Subcommittee on Elections at New Mexico’s state capitol broke no new ground on voting rights.

Instead, Democrats used it to chastise states like Texas and Arizona, where state lawmakers approved legislation to restrict voting rights to voters whose identities could be verified easily through government documents.

Examples include drivers’ licenses, passports or other government-issued identification with photos of the owners.

Restrictive laws in predominantly Republican states already are approved in 19 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a public policy foundation. They typically limit absentee voting and online voter registration.

The more restrictive state laws were spurred by former President Donald Trump’s allegations that voter fraud led him to lose the 2020 presidential election.

“This great state has moved in the opposite direction by expanding access to the ballot box,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., chairman of the Subcommittee on Elections.

Supporters of the reform legislation say the more restrictive laws exclude many low-income persons who lack government identification or who are unable to leave their jobs to cast their ballots.

They also deny the reforms they suggest will lead to greater voter fraud.

“We are a nationally recognized leader in protecting the integrity of every vote,” said Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s secretary of state.

Other provisions of the New Mexico bill would restore felons’ voting rights, authorize online voting with Social Security numbers and allow automatic voter registration after transactions at the state Motor Vehicle Division.

New Mexico already allows same-day voter registration, which Republicans say often favors Democratic voters.

Oliver denied party favoritism when she said, “Republicans used same-day registration more than Democrats in [the] last election, which is different from what Republicans predicted.”

No opponents of the reform bills in New Mexico or in Congress testified at the field hearing.

Tom can be reached at tom@thewellnews.com

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