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New Law Kills State Voter IDs

By Gabriela C. Guzman
Copyright 2007 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Capitol Bureau
    SANTA FE— Remember those plastic voter identification cards mailed out— sort of— by the Secretary of State's Office last year?
    Well, you can toss them.
    A bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Bill Richardson on March 28 revokes the plan, which was to issue a card voters could use— although there was no legal requirement— to identify themselves at New Mexico polling places.
    The state spent close to $1 million to mail out the cards to its roughly 1 million voters in the 2006 election year.
    Many cards were mailed late and arrived weeks after the June primary election. Many cards also were fraught with errors, mailed to the wrong address or even sent to dead people.
    About 200,000 cards were eventually returned to the Secretary of State's Office as undeliverable.
    Republicans criticized the cards' distribution last year under then-Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron and called the program a "big joke."
    The cards and the election-year mailing were required by the Legislature in 2005. The legislation, approved by the Democratic majorities, grew out of demands from minority Republicans that the state require true voter identification at the polls as a way to prevent voter fraud.
    Secretary of State Mary Herrera pushed for the legislation this year that strikes the cards from the state's election code.
    Herrera said Monday the ID cards confused rather than helped voters.
    "When she was (Bernallilo) county clerk, she received a lot of calls from voters who had the impression that the cards were needed to vote," said Herrera's spokesman James Flores.
    The cards were not needed to vote and the confusion prevented some people from casting a ballot, Flores said.
    Under the 2005 law, voters were given several options to identify themselves at polling places, including the voter ID card. They also could present a utility bill, or simply attest to their name, year of birth and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.
    Much of the information on the voter ID cards already is included on paper cards sent to voters by the state's county clerks following registration.
    One of the sponsors of the 2005 bill said the voter ID card program did not go as originally intended.
    The idea was to give voters a document proving they were registered to vote, said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.
    "It was much more expensive and not as effective as we intended. I won't shed a tear over the voter ID cards," Ortiz y Pino said.
    On Monday, Nina Martinez, state Republican Party secretary, said the voter ID card program highlighted the condition of the state's voter rolls.
    "We really want to make sure that New Mexico, as required by federal law, is purging the rolls of deceased voters," she said.
    The only way for the state's voter rolls to have any integrity is for the secretary of state to do a full accounting of the close to 200,000 returned voter ID cards, Martinez said.
    "That's astronomical," Martinez said of the returned cards.
    "Who are these people?" she asked.