By the time this legislative session is over, there will be many causes for Democrats to celebrate. Voting rights strides are among them.
There’s every reason to assume Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham will sign HB 4, one of the most important voting rights bills in the country, and SB 180, a bill transforming New Mexico’s election processes. Both bills have passed both houses of the legislature well before the closing of this session at noon March 18.
New Mexico continues to lead in encouraging more voter participation as once-reasonable states concentrate on restricting it. Further, the state is upgrading its processes for registering, balloting, assessing, and notifying voters of primaries and general elections, all while guaranteeing the security of election programs.
HB 4, sponsored by House Speaker Javier Martinez with Reps. Gail Chasey, Wonda Johnson, Raymundo Lara and Senator Katy Duhigg, makes it easier to vote and to register to vote. The most important of its changes is making voter registration “opt-out” rather than “opt-in” as it currently is, a process termed “automatic voter registration,” or AVR.
With AVR, the State will presume that those who give their information to the state through car registration or applying for public benefits prefer to register to vote as well, if they are qualified and have not already registered.
Everyone has the option to opt out, of course, but people in the 20-odd states that now use AVR have not found many opting out. In fact, since Oregon became the first state in the nation to implement AVR in 2016, registration rates quadrupled at motor vehicle offices. Similarly, in Vermont, AVR triggered an increase of 62% in voter registration the first six months after implementation in 2017, according to the Brennan Center. As in other states, New Mexico voter information will be updated automatically when registration changes for a move or other change in the voter’s information.
HB 4 also keeps people from losing their right to vote permanently upon conviction of a felony. Under current law, a person convicted of a felony may be able to regain the right to vote after fulfilling all the terms of probation and parole. With the governor’s signature on HB 4, an incarcerated person can register to vote again when close to release, but before completing probation or parole.
Bernalillo County Democrats are likely to be especially grateful for the 176-page SB 180, sponsored by Sens. Duhigg and Reps. Leo Jaramillo and Chasey. The bill substantially cleans up scores of sections of legal provisions for the processes by which voters are notified of state elections, how elections are conducted, certified, and tallied. The bill allows for electronic signatures on nominating petitions—substantially decreasing the difficulty for a candidate to get on the ballot (and reducing the workload of many a Democratic Party volunteer.) The bill establishes a requirement for training election challengers and watchers, and allows for changes in rule to make home addresses of legislative candidates confidential for security purposes. It authorizes the Secretary of State to create a permanent mailed ballot registry so that those who prefer voting by mail can, by registering their preference, receive all election ballots by mail.
The fact that both bills passed by substantial margins is heartening, especially in an era with election deniers chipping away at legitimacy of elections in other states.New Mexicans can be proud of the legislative sponsors and our elected officials for making changes to support more election participation and more legitimacy and accountability in elections.