SANTA FE – The secretary of state has made it official: Some 17-year-olds will be able to vote in this year’s primary election, although not until a new law takes effect May 18.
That means they would miss the first eight days of early voting – offered in county clerks’ offices – but be able to vote after that, through the June 7 primary election.
The Legislature this year passed, and the governor signed, a bill allowing 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they will be 18 by the time of the general election.
Because of the May 18 effective date, there was some uncertainty about how the new law would apply to this year’s election. But Secretary of State Brad Winter clarified it in a memo dated April 9 he sent to county clerks.
He told the Journal that after consulting with the attorney general, it was determined that 17-year-olds who will turn 18 on or before the general election on Nov. 8 “and who have timely and properly registered to vote” will be able to do so beginning May 18, when the law takes effect.
Voter registration for the primary ends May 10, so 17-year-olds would have to register on or before that date in order to be able to vote as of May 18.
“That’s crucial,” said state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, a former state elections director and the executive director of the County Clerks Affiliate of the New Mexico Association of Counties. “They must have submitted their voter registration on paper or online as of May 10.”
And they have to be registered either as Democrats or Republicans; New Mexicans not affiliated with either party can’t vote in the primary.
Nor does state law allow the same 17-year-olds to vote in any other election – local bond elections, for example. The primary is different because it’s essentially the nominating process for parties for the general election.
There already are hundreds of 17-year-olds in the pipeline to vote who will turn 18 by Nov. 8, according to the secretary of state. That’s because current law already allows 17-year-olds to fill out voter registration forms, which are then held in a suspense status until they turn 18.
“Democracy only works if everyone participates, and allowing these new voters to participate is a win for our state,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico.
“And even though the best-case scenario of allowing them to vote on the first day of early voting didn’t happen, we are very happy that they will have from May 18 until the primary on June 7 to vote,” she said.