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Editorial: 3 elections bills miss the real need of NM voters

Registering to vote isn’t hard to do in New Mexico.

You can register in person or online, when you apply for a driver’s license or an ID card, by mail, telephone or in person. You can fill out the form at your county clerk’s office. Advocacy groups will register you at events around the state.

Voting isn’t hard either. We have early and absentee voting. In some places, all you have to do is drop by the county clerk’s office to vote early. You can get an absentee ballot and vote by mail. Enough people did that in the southern part of the state to affect the District 2 congressional race last November.

On Election Day, there are voter convenience centers so you don’t have to track down your precinct anymore.

In other words, it takes minimal thought and effort to participate in the political process.

Yet the state Legislature is never shy about offering solutions in search of problems. This session bills have been introduced to make registering even easier – but should it be? Lawmakers would better serve New Mexicans by finally opening primaries and ending disenfranchisement of around 20 percent of registered voters who Decline To State a party.

Here are some of the bills that would make N.M.’s already lenient voting laws too lenient:

• House Bill 57, sponsored by Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, would allow felons to vote while in prison. Supporters say it would allow felons to maintain their ties to the community, ease their transition into society and eliminate trouble getting back on voter rolls after release.

But New Mexico Statute 31-13-1 says felons can have their voting rights restored if they have completed their sentences, fulfilled probation requirements and paid any restitution and court costs. Ensuring that process is working is what lawmakers should focus on.

Felons are incarcerated for a reason – punishment for crimes committed against society. Prosecutors and other opponents argue the right to vote should be forfeited until they’ve paid their debt to society. We agree.

• House Bill 86, sponsored by Daymon Ely, D-Corrales; Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces; and Debra M. Sariñana, Patricia Roybal Caballero and Joy Garratt, all D-Albuquerque; would allow people to register on Election Day or at early election sites right before casting a ballot. We favor easy access to the polls, but we want voters to be informed before they get there.

A person shouldn’t go to cast a ballot on a last-minute whim – it should be a deliberate action. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says the state is able to handle same-day registration. But recent problems in Doña Ana County and other places put that in question. Adding registration to Election Day duties could open the door for error at best and voting-day roundups of uninformed “voters” and fraud at worst.

Under the current system, registration ends 28 days before Election Day. In some communities, that’s only a couple of days before early voting and absentee voting begin, a pretty big window that seems more than fair.

And it doesn’t suppress turnout. There were record-breaking early vote totals for a nonpresidential election year in November, total turnout hit 698,976 ballots, 55.4 percent.

• House Bill 84 would automatically register a person to vote when they get their driver’s license or ID at the Motor Vehicle Division unless they specifically opt out.

When it comes to registering to vote, shouldn’t we opt in instead? There should be some thought put in to registering to vote as well as the action itself. How hard is it to be asked the question and check the box?

Looking for ways to make the political process accessible is a noble goal. But rather than taking all thought out of registering to vote, lawmakers should put some thought into finally providing access to voters who have made the effort and are denied the right to cast ballots every primary.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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