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Gov. signs Election Day voter registration bill

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – New Mexico will join 17 other states that allow qualified residents to register to vote and cast a ballot in the same day, under legislation signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

The first-term Democratic governor, who signed the same-day voting bill into law during a private ceremony in her office, said the measure could boost New Mexico voter turnout and registration levels.

More than 55 percent of registered voters – or roughly 701,000 – cast ballots in last year’s general election, but turnout has been lower than that in some previous statewide elections.

“This is a victory for democracy,” Lujan Grisham said. “We should always actively seek out measures that will facilitate inclusion in our great American experiment.”

For decades, state law has set a voter registration deadline of four weeks before a state primary or general election.

But the legislation signed Wednesday will allow voters to register and vote on Election Day, starting in the 2022 election cycle.

The Election Day voter registration option will not be available for the 2020 election cycle, although voters will be allowed to register on the Saturday before both the primary and general elections scheduled to be held that year.

The measure, Senate Bill 672, passed the House and Senate during the final week of this year’s 60-day session. It won unanimous backing from Democratic lawmakers but was opposed by nearly all Republicans.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who pushed for the legislation, described it as a “game-changer” for New Mexico.

“It’s simply easier for New Mexicans to fit voting into their busy lives when they can register and vote on the same day, and now they can,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement.

To take part in same-day voting, New Mexico voters will have to show proof of their identity and residence, by showing a driver’s license or other form of ID. Also, voters will not be able to change their party affiliation when registering – or updating their registration – before a primary election.

Some GOP lawmakers have expressed concern that same-day voter registration could open the door to voter fraud and possibly lead to other unintended consequences.

“We can’t even clean up the system we have now,” said Rep. Kelly Fajardo, R-Los Lunas, who added that she recently heard from a constituent who said several people listed her mobile home as their address on absentee ballot requests.

Meanwhile, the new law also provides for automated voter registration by putting into law existing procedures that give New Mexicans the opportunity to register to vote at state Motor Vehicle Division field offices.

New Mexicans who receive Medicaid, food stamps or other benefits through the state Human Services Department are also given the chance to register to vote, and the Secretary of State’s Office recently began allowing qualified state residents to register to vote online.

Lujan Grisham also signed roughly 20 other bills into law on Wednesday, including a measure that prohibits New Mexico cities and counties from enacting and enforcing local “right-to-work” ordinances.

Ten counties – along with the village of Ruidoso – have enacted local ordinances on the issue, despite a January 2018 opinion from Attorney General Hector Balderas that such ordinances would likely be struck down if challenged in court.

At least one of the ordinances, passed by Sandoval County, is already the subject of a lawsuit.

The governor has until April 5 to act on the remaining 220 or so bills passed during the final days of this year’s session, which ended March 16.

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