SANTA FE — Legislation to expand automatic voter registration in New Mexico is headed back to the Senate, where last year it died in a session-ending filibuster.
A new version of the bill arrived in the Senate on Wednesday, setting up another intense debate in the chamber, after the House passed the legislation on a 41-26 vote late Tuesday.
Sen. Katy Duhigg, an Albuquerque Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill, said her Democratic colleagues “remain dedicated to getting the New Mexico Voting Rights Act passed and signed into law.”
Republican lawmakers opposed a similar bill last year — questioning the propriety of automatic registration, among other objections — and it died as Sen. William Sharer of Farmington held the Senate floor for the final hours of the session.
This year’s legislation, House Bill 4, touches on a host of New Mexico election laws and procedures, ranging from secure ballot drop boxes to quicker restoration of felons’ voting rights.
“Democracy thrives when we eliminate the unnecessary and cumbersome barriers to being involved in the process,” Duhigg said, “and the New Mexico Voting Rights Act reaffirms our state’s commitment to safeguarding the sacred right to vote.”
One of the most intensely contested parts of the bill is a provision phasing in automatic voter registration during some transactions at Motor Vehicle Division offices, such as when a person presents documents proving citizenship while applying for a driver’s license.
The newly registered voters would 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.
Republican opponents of the bill said it’s inappropriate to register someone to vote — even if briefly — over their objection.
In an interview, Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras, said the will of the people, not the government, should drive voter turnout and registration.
“It’s manipulative to do it without their consent,” Schmedes said.
The state House worked deep into the night Tuesday to debate the bill over three hours, with final action coming about 11:20 p.m. It passed mostly along party lines, with Democrats in favor.
“Letting every voice be heard, that’s what we want,” Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said.
House Majority Leader Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat who presented the bill, described the legislation as “a major step forward for protecting the right to vote for our citizens in New Mexico.”
The legislation would:
— Allow voters to sign up once to get absentee ballots before every election.
— Restore the voting rights of felons when they leave custody rather than after they complete probation or parole.
— Require each county to have at least two secured, monitored boxes for people to drop off absentee ballots.
— Enact a Native American Voting Rights Act to better coordinate access to the polls on tribal land.
— Make Election Day a school holiday.