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Democrats push several election proposals

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Voters cast their ballots at the Petroglyph Plaza Voting site on Albuquerque’s West Side last year. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – A package of election proposals in the state House would allow felons to keep their voting rights while in prison and aim to make voter registration for the general public more convenient, or even automatic.

And one bill has the potential to change how New Mexico participates in presidential elections.

The proposals, all sponsored by Democrats, are starting to move through the House.

The presidential proposal cleared its first committee Wednesday on a party-line vote, with Democrats in the majority. It would sign New Mexico on to a compact pledging the state’s electoral votes to whichever candidate wins the national popular vote.

The goal would be to diminish the influence of the winner-take-all system that dominates the Electoral College, in which candidates tend to focus on a dozen or so battleground states that could be won by either party.

Supporters say it would encourage candidates to campaign more broadly throughout the country – because a vote in, say, New Mexico would be worth the same as one in Ohio.

“Every vote should count equally – period,” said Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales.

But Republican lawmakers said the idea wouldn’t be good for New Mexico. Less populous states benefit from slightly higher influence under the Electoral College system, they said.

“It reduces our overall say in the election process,” Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said.

House Bill 55, co-sponsored by Ely and four other Democrats, now heads to the House Judiciary Committee, potentially its last stop before the House floor.

Under the compact, each state agrees to award its electoral votes to whichever presidential candidate wins the most votes nationwide. It wouldn’t go into effect until enough states signed on to ensure they formed a majority of the Electoral College.

Here’s a look at the other election proposals:

• House Bill 57, sponsored by Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, would end New Mexico’s practice of canceling the voter registration of anyone convicted of a felony.

The proposal was discussed in the House state government committee Wednesday, but a final vote was postponed.

Chasey and other supporters say it would encourage felons behind bars to maintain connections with their communities, which would aid in their transition upon release. They also said the state’s current system – restoring felons’ voting rights after they serve their sentences – doesn’t work, and felons often have trouble getting back on the rolls.

But prosecutors and other opponents said people who have committed murder or harmed a child should forfeit their right to vote, at least until they’ve paid their “debt to society.”

• Two proposals would make it easier to register to vote. Neither has had its first committee hearing.

House Bill 84, sponsored by Ely and three other Democrats, would automatically register people to vote when they get their driver’s licenses or ID at the Motor Vehicle Division, unless they specifically opt out or are ineligible.

House Bill 86, also co-sponsored by Ely, would allow people to register to vote on Election Day or at early voting sites.

Under the current system, the registration period closes about a month before Election Day.

Nora Sackett, a spokeswoman for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said the governor is still reviewing the proposals but generally “is supportive of increased access to voting and less burdensome voter registration.”

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