Democrats launch new campaign for NM voting rights bill - Albuquerque Journal

Democrats launch new campaign for NM voting rights bill

House Speaker Javier Martinez, D-Albuquerque, right, waits with Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, second from left, House Majority Leader Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, and Justin Allen, center, with Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, to speak Tuesday at a news conference about a voting rights bill. (Eddie Moore/Journal)

SANTA FE — A Republican filibuster killed election legislation at the Roundhouse in the final hours of last year’s session.

But Democratic lawmakers and their allies launched a new campaign Tuesday in favor of a voting rights bill they expect to move forward with time to spare.

At least one factor — the calendar — is on their side. The Legislature last week opened a 60-day session, twice as long as last year’s.

The new proposal, supporters say, would phase in automatic voter registration during Motor Vehicle Division transactions, allow voters to sign up once to get absentee ballots before every election and restore the voting rights of felons when they leave custody rather than after they complete probation or parole.

The bill, however, doesn’t include some of the ideas that triggered intense opposition in last year’s debate, such as allowing 16-year-olds to vote in school and city elections.

In a news conference Tuesday, newly elected House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque, said the protection of voting rights will be a priority during his tenure.

“As other states are rolling back voting rights and restricting access to the ballot box,” Martínez said, “New Mexico will continue to work hard to ensure we remove unnecessary barriers so that all eligible voters can make their voices heard.”

Republicans, in turn, said they were right to block last year’s voting bill. But they expressed willingness to pursue a bipartisan compromise on election security.

“Last year, we followed the lead of our County Clerks and unanimously passed a bipartisan election bill out of the Senate that strengthened voter rights and improved election security,” Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca, R-Belen, said in a written statement. “Unfortunately, that consensus bill was hijacked and derailed in the House by the majority party.

“Election security and integrity are more important than ever, and we will continue to engage in good faith efforts to make needed changes to our Election Code.”

Among the groups supporting this year’s measure are the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, Organizers in the Land of Enchantment and NM Native Vote.

This year’s voting bill hasn’t been introduced yet. But supporters said it would include:

■ Phasing in a system of automatic voter registration, such as during MVD transactions, for citizens who are qualified to vote but aren’t registered. Supporters say it would include an opt-out for those who don’t want to register, similar to what’s used in Colorado.

■ Creation of a permanent absentee voter list. Voters would have the option of opting in to receive ballots by mail before every election rather than having to apply each time.

■ Establishing a Native American Voting Rights Act intended to better coordinate access to the polls on tribal land and allow the use of tribal buildings as a voter-registration address for people without a traditional address.

■ Automatic restoration of voting rights for inmates exiting prison. Under the current system, they must complete probation or parole before registering to vote again.

Twenty-one states automatically restore voting rights after incarceration. Another 16 — New Mexico now among them — require someone convicted of a felony to complete their entire sentence, including probation and parole, before registering to vote.

Justin Allen of Organizers in the Land of Enchantment said the automatic restoration of voting rights after incarceration is particularly important. After his own time in state custody, Allen said, it was difficult to register to vote at a county clerk’s office even though he had the right documents.

“I’m here today because civic engagement is how I was able to break the cycle of recidivism for myself,” he said.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat reelected last year, called the proposal “a strong step forward for New Mexico.”

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