SANTA FE — Students would get Election Day off and motor-vehicle offices would expand automatic voter registration under a bill moving forward in the state House and backed by the chamber’s Democratic leadership.
The legislation, House Bill 4, cleared its first House committee on a party-line vote Wednesday over the objection of Republicans who questioned the propriety of registering people automatically and asking later if they’d like to opt out.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who served as an expert witness on the bill, said the proposal includes safeguards to ensure only qualified electors are registered automatically.
The Motor Vehicle Division is linked to an electronic database with citizenship information, for example, and the legislation will strengthen the accuracy of the voter rolls by also updating addresses during MVD transactions, Toulouse Oliver said.
Newly registered voters will be told they’ve been added to the voter rolls and that they’ll get a postcard in the mail allowing them to decline the registration.
The automated procedures would go into effect in mid-2025.
The state Taxation and Revenue Department estimated it would cost about $718,000 to carry out the automated registration.
Republican lawmakers skeptically questioned the proposal, contending that some people don’t want to register for religious reasons and shouldn’t be added to the rolls without active consent.
“That’s backwards,” state Rep. Bill Rehm, R-Albuquerque, said of automatic registration. “The person should be opting in.”
New Mexico already has same-day voter registration for people who show up to the polls without being registered.
But Democratic lawmakers hailed the proposal as a meaningful expansion of voter rights.
In addition to automatic registration, the bill includes a Native American Voting Rights Act intended to protect access to the polls in tribal areas, the restoration of voting rights for felons when they exit incarceration and a permanent absentee voter list.
“We all deserve to be able to exercise our right to vote,” Rep. Charlotte Little, D-Albuquerque, said.
The proposal also would make Election Day a school holiday for general and regular local elections. Many schools serve as polling sites.
The bill passed the House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee on a 6-3 vote. Approval from a second committee would send it to the House floor.
The sponsors include House Speaker Javier Martínez and House Majority Leader Gail Chasey of Albuquerque, Sen. Katy Duhigg of Albuquerque, Rep. Doreen Wonda Johnson of Church Rock and Raymundo Lara of Chamberino, all Democrats.