Wednesday, July 07, 2010
UPDATED: New Mexico Settles Lawsuit Over Voter Registration Law
By Sue Major Holmes
New Mexico has settled a lawsuit filed by advocacy groups last year over compliance with a law that lets people register to vote at various state agencies, including the Motor Vehicle Division when they get a driver's license.
The settlement will result in tens of thousands of people in the state being offered a chance to register to vote, said Nicole Kovite, who heads the public agency voter registration project for Washington, D.C.-based Project Vote, one of the groups that sued.
"The voter registration application needs to be a simultaneous part of every application for a driver's license" or a state identification card, Kovite said.
Secretary of State Mary Herrera and Taxation and Revenue Secretary Dorothy Rodriguez, who signed the agreement last week, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Wednesday. The Taxation and Revenue Department oversees the MVD.
The settlement requires staffers to be designated as National Voter Registration Act coordinators, who will help ensure compliance with the law through education and training and by making sure offices have equipment needed for voter registrations.
The MVD must update computer systems and websites and monitor compliance. The agreement also requires offices to post signs telling members of the public they can register to vote at that office.
Kovite, whose nonpartisan voting rights organization tracks voter registrations by state agencies, said the numbers from New Mexico's MVD were "very, very low" considering how many people go through the agency every year.
Those suing said MVD offices submitted fewer than 3,000 voter registration applications in 2007 and 2008.
"We knew the state was not following the law," Kovite said.
The agreement settles only the part of the lawsuit against the MVD and the Taxation and Revenue Department.
Still remaining to be settled are allegations the New Mexico Human Services Department did not follow the law's requirement to distribute voter registration cards along with applications for public assistance such as food stamps and Medicaid. That requirement is in an effort to reach low-income citizens who are less likely to own vehicles.
A coalition of advocacy groups sued New Mexico and Indiana in July 2009 after a successful settlement with Missouri over the voter registration law. The coalition said the problems were widespread across the nation and that it was working with other states to avoid litigation.
The coalition also included the nonprofit group Demos and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
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