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SANTA FE – New Mexico would allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections, expand absentee voting and create a straight-party ballot option under a proposal announced Thursday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
The measure also would automatically restore the voting rights of felons who aren’t incarcerated and make it easier to register online to vote.
Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver, both Democrats, jointly announced the proposal in a written statement Thursday – the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump supporters, temporarily interrupting certification of Joe Biden’s victory.
“Protecting voting rights is essential to upholding our democracy and ensuring New Mexicans’ voices are heard,” Lujan Grisham said.
Republicans have vigorously opposed parts of the proposal. A legal challenge by the Republican Party and others in 2018 prevented the reinstatement of straight-ticket voting – an option that allows voters to choose the candidate in one party for every race.
In an interview, Sen. Cliff Pirtle, a Roswell Republican and member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which considers voting legislation, said any proposals to change election laws should include requiring voters to show their identification.
An ID requirement, he said, would ensure people qualified to vote are the only ones who actually cast a ballot.
“It’s an easy balance that really should be a nonpartisan issue,” Pirtle said Thursday.
The Democratic election proposal comes ahead of a 30-day session of the Legislature set to begin Jan. 18. The session is dedicated largely to budget and revenue legislation, but the governor is empowered to broaden the agenda.
Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver didn’t release a copy of the election bill Thursday. But they said its provisions would include:
• Expanding early voting by a day to the Sunday before Election Day and designating Election Day as a state holiday.
• Allowing residents as young as 16 to vote in local elections, such as for city councils and school boards.
• Creating a permanent absentee voter list, allowing people to receive ballots by mail for every election without having to file a new request.
• Permitting people without an official state ID to register to vote online by using their full Social Security number.
• Mailing absentee ballots to voters one week earlier, 35 days before Election Day, and extending the deadline to accept the ballots back to the Friday after the election, rather than when polls close.
• Revising the voter registration system at the Motor Vehicle Division.
Toulouse Oliver, the chief elections officer in New Mexico, said the legislation “gives us the chance to pass one of the most powerful voting rights bills in our state’s history.”
The proposal comes in an election year. Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver are up for reelection, and the ballot will also include races for attorney general, state auditor, state treasurer, land commissioner and 70 seats in the state House.
Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
Election proposals have been among the most hotly contested bills in past sessions. Among the recent changes are a 2019 law that allows New Mexicans to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day.