SANTA FE — New Mexico will establish a permanent absentee voter list and remove barriers to voting on tribal lands under sweeping legislation signed into law Thursday by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.
The measure also will automate voter registration during certain Motor Vehicle Division transactions and more quickly restore the voting rights of people exiting prison after a felony conviction.
It was supported this year by Democratic legislative leaders and Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, after a similar measure died in the final moments of the 2022 session amid a GOP filibuster.
Republican lawmakers fiercely opposed the bill this year, too, contending automatic voter registration and other measures aren’t necessary in a state that already allows same-day registration.
But advocates of the legislation, House Bill 4, celebrated Thursday as Lujan Grisham signed the bill during a ceremony at the Capitol with Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver; House Speaker Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque; and others.
Native American leaders described it as critical step toward protecting the voting rights of people on tribal land, especially those without a traditional mailing address.
The measure requires collaboration with pueblos, nations and tribes on establishing polling places, early voting locations and precinct boundaries. It also allows members to register to vote or receive absentee ballots at official tribal buildings — a necessity, supporters said, for residents who don’t receive mail at home.
“It is truly monumental reform,” said Ahtza Chavez, executive director of NM Native Vote and a member of the Kewa Pueblo and Diné Nation. “It requires collaboration with tribes at all levels.”
In a signing ceremony at the Capitol, Lujan Grisham said the legislation would serve as a template for other states.
“We want to send a message to the rest of the country — that this is what voting access and protection should look like,” the governor said.
Ash Soular, a spokeswoman for the Republican Party of New Mexico, told the Journal the legislation has the “potential to weaken our elections” by failing to addresses weaknesses in ballot security.
“We are disappointed that the Democratic legislature would not work to pass voter ID — policy New Mexicans want that would strengthen election integrity,” she said.
“Instead of focusing on crime this session, progressives rewarded felons who have not completed their parole by restoring their voting rights. RPNM believes felons should have their voting rights restored once they complete their sentence.”
Here’s a look at the key provisions in the measure:
Absentee voting: Sign up once
The legislation calls for a permanent absentee voter list to be available in time for the 2024 elections. Voters could sign up once to get absentee ballots mailed to them before every statewide election.
People on the list would also get notices mailed to them seven weeks before Election Day. Any election-related mail returned to the county clerk as undeliverable would trigger the voters’ removal from the absentee list.
Automatic voter registration during some transactions at MVD offices — such as when a person presents documents proving citizenship while applying for a driver’s license — would begin in July 2025.
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.
For MVD customers already registered to vote, their address would be updated in the voting rolls if they renew their driver’s license with a different address.
Restoration of rights
The legislation will restore the voting rights of felons when they leave custody rather than after they complete probation or parole. Inmates would be granted the chance to register or update their registration before release.
The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group, estimated the measure will restore the voting rights of more than 11,000 citizens.
The bill makes Election Day a school holiday.
The legislation requires each county to have at least two secured, monitored boxes for people to drop off absentee ballots. State election officials are empowered to waive the requirement or grant requests for additional containers, depending on the circumstances of each county.
Native American voting
The proposal establishes a Native American Voting Rights Act.