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Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Bill To Fight Election Fraud Put on Ice

By Loie Fecteau
Journal Politics Writer
    SANTA FE A Republican-backed bill to require voters to verify their identities with their signatures at polling places was tabled Tuesday by a Democratic-controlled committee in a party-line vote.
    "They say it's merely resting, but I suspect it's dead," said Rep. Joe Thompson, R-Albuquerque, the sponsor.
    House Minority Leader Ted Hobbs, R-Albuquerque, lashed out at the 5-3 vote by the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee. The vote effectively stalled Thompson's bill in its first committee, just two weeks into the 60-day session.
    "Every time there's a vote on this (voter ID), it's 100 percent along party lines," Hobbs said. "That's wrong."
    Hobbs said Republicans plan to "keep beating our heads against the wall until we get some action on this."
    Republicans contend New Mexico needs a voter identification law to prevent voter fraud. Thompson said 23 other states have some form of voter ID requirement.
    In the past, Democrats have argued it would be difficult, and often intimidating, for many Hispanics, Indians and elderly to produce formal identification at the polls. Democrats have contended further that the effect would be to hold down minority and typically Democratic voter participation.
    Thompson's latest bill wouldn't require formal identification immediately and would rely on voter signatures up front.
    "I'm trying to find something sellable and achievable," Thompson said. In past years, Thompson had unsuccessfully sponsored measures that would require voters to show identification at the polls.
    Under Thompson's new bill, voters would be required to sign a roster at the polling place before being allowed to vote. The voters' signatures then would be compared with a digital facsimile of their signatures, which would be kept on a computerized roster by each county.
    If an actual signature of a voter was found to be "significantly at variance" from the digital facsimile signature roster, a voter would have to show identification before being allowed to vote.
    People without valid identification, such as a New Mexico driver's license, could still vote "after executing a statement swearing or affirming that the voter is the named registered voter," Thompson said.
    Hoyt Clifton, a consultant with the Secretary of State's Office, told the committee he was unsure that state and county election officials could have the computerized voter signature system in place by 2004 as proposed in the bill.
    Meanwhile, Gov. Bill Richardson, a Democrat, said Tuesday he feared voter identification proposals would discriminate against minority voters.
    "I think it will be a deterrent to voter turnout," Richardson said.