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Over 17,000 New Mexicans who are convicted felons will not be able to vote in the upcoming elections due to the state’s disenfranchisement laws, according to a recent report by The Sentencing Project.
New Mexico citizens lose voting rights the moment they are convicted for a felony in any state or federal court. Those rights can be restored upon completing their prison, parole and probation sentences, according to a state statute.
Citizens awaiting trial are still eligible to vote at any early voting locations or even vote on Election Day, according to Bernalillo County Deputy Clerk Jaime Diaz. Those in jail who are awaiting trial are allowed to vote through an absentee ballot.
Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, introduced a House bill in 2018 that would have restored voting rights for all felons. If passed, New Mexico would have joined Maine and Vermont as the only states where felons have the right to vote.
While she still believes current disenfranchisement laws are outdated, Chasey said attempting to restore these rights in New Mexico proved to be a bridge too far to cross at the time.
“Unfortunately we’re so dedicated to punishment instead of people’s constitutional rights,” Chasey said. “We need to get people talking about this.”
New Mexico is one of 15 states with the same restrictions, but some have tighter laws against felons. Eleven states, including Arizona and Virginia, prohibit felons from voting even after completing their sentence.
Currently, 48 states have laws prohibiting citizens with felony convictions from voting. According to the report, an estimated 4.6 million people across the country are disenfranchised. The Sentencing Project is a research center based in Washington, D.C., that works to reduce incarcerations in the United States.
In New Mexico, an estimated 5,500 people are in prison, 2,725 are on parole and 8,586 are on probation, the report states. This totals around 17,572 people in the state who have no voting rights.
When asked whether convicted felons should be able to vote, Attorney General Hector Balderas said “access to voting is critical, and I encourage the Legislature to consider all appropriate measures to reasonably increase access to citizens’ right to vote.”
The report notes that data on Latinx ethnicity is limited but estimates that at least 506,000 Latinx Americans nationwide are disenfranchised. The number is likely to be larger than the one reported, according to The Sentencing Project.
This creates a disproportion in New Mexico since the report found 9,949 out of the 17,572 disenfranchised New Mexico citizens are Latinx whereas the Latinx community constitutes 50.1% of the state’s total population, according to the state census.
“It is simply unacceptable that one out of every 50 adults in America is disenfranchised due to a felony conviction,” said Nicole Porter, senior director of advocacy for The Sentencing Project. “As we embark on one of the most important midterm elections of our lifetime, felony disenfranchisement should be at the forefront of the public agenda.”