Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver are using this upcoming legislative session — a 30-day one that is supposed to be focused on the budget — to push several dubious voting changes under the politically popular guise of protecting voting rights.
Some of the proposals are valid: felons who have paid their debt to society should not have to navigate a cumbersome system to have their voting rights restored, mailing absentee ballots to voters one week earlier allows voters more time to educate themselves on the races, and allowing early voting to extend to the Sunday before Election Day cuts procrastinators a break.
But the rest of the Democrats’ proposals need real debate at best, the trash can of history at worst.
Among the misguided proposals disguised as “reform”:
• Allowing 16-year-olds to vote in local elections is a nonstarter. The 26th Amendment ratified by the states in 1971 lowered the age to vote from 21 to 18. It’s noteworthy the proposal to lower the age to 16 would only apply to local elections; the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow 16- or 17-year-olds to vote in federal elections.
In 2016 the state Legislature passed and Republican Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law the provision 17-year-olds can vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the general election. That’s low enough.
We have heard for years young minds are not mature until age 25, yet we want to put elections entailing nine-figure budgets in the hands of 16-year-olds?
If the goal is to improve turnout, the Legislature did that when it consolidated local elections. Around 22,000 more people voted in Albuquerque’s November mayoral/City Council/school board election than in the previous mayoral race. In fact, turnout was higher than in any other city mayoral race going back at least 20 years.
A cynic would point out this proposal comes just weeks after union-backed candidates lost three of four contested Albuquerque Public Schools Board of Education seats. A pragmatist would ask why not open primaries to independent voters age 18 and up instead?
• Reinstating straight-ticket voting would be a step backward. There’s no reason for it, outside of partisan endeavors to allow voters to cast ballots like robots. Even if a voter chooses a slate of candidates with straight-ticket voting, they still have to decide how to vote on bond questions, judicial retentions, proposed constitutional amendments and nonpartisan races. We should be encouraging an informed electorate, not lazy voting guided by party bosses.
• The proposal to designate Election Day as a state holiday needs to be fleshed out. New Mexico already requires employers to grant employees paid time off to vote. And if we make Election Day a holiday, why expand early voting? Ditto for expanding the timeline for Indigenous governments to request alternate voting sites and revising the voter registration system at the Motor Vehicle Division — these last-minute proposals still have not been drafted and the session begins next week. Without details it’s unclear what’s changing and if it’s for the better.
• Creating a permanent absentee voter list allowing people to receive ballots by mail without having to file new requests, and allowing folks without an official state ID to register to vote online using their full Social Security number open the system up to shenanigans. We have all gotten mail for someone who doesn’t live at our address, and Social Security numbers are routinely stolen.
• Extending the deadline to return absentee ballots to the Friday after the election makes timely results a fools’ errand. Focus on early voting, not later and later results.
Toulouse Oliver, the state’s chief elections officer, said the so-called NM Voting Rights Act “gives us the chance to pass one of the most powerful voting rights bills in our state’s history.” The governor echoed that ambitious sentiment.
And with their bills not even drafted yet and the 30-day session starting Tuesday, that’s all the more reason to wait for a 60-day session.
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.