Voting Rights Protections Act moves forward in New Mexico Legislature

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SANTA FE, N.M. – The state House of Representatives spent six hours debating not one, but two contentious proposals before eventually sending them over to the Senate for consideration.

One of those is working to make it easier for thousands of New Mexicans to vote.

The “Voting Rights Protections Act,” covers a lot of ground, it’s proposing a lot of small changes all geared towards one big goal.

The bill’s sponsors say they want to make sure everyone who lives in the state, especially in the rural and remote areas, has the same access to the election process.

It’s a vision both Democrats and Republicans can agree on, but the fine print is where they draw the line.

“We really want to engage the more voters and have greater participation in our society,” said House Majority Leader Gail Chasey. 

Chasey is one of seven state lawmakers championing the Voting Rights Protections Act.

The expansive proposal includes several modifications to the state’s voting laws, hopefully making it easier for New Mexicans to not only register to vote, but also cast a ballot.

“We’re trying to make sure that people in sparsely populated areas, the frontier counties, have every opportunity to vote just as easily as my constituents do in Albuquerque,” said Chasey. 

First off, the bill would make Election Day a state holiday. It would also automatically register anyone who proves their citizenship at MVD offices, and it creates a permanent absentee voter list – so folks don’t have to request an absentee ballot every election.

The proposal also requires every county to operate at least two ballot drop-off boxes. 

Casey says many of those provisions are already happening.

“There might not be a huge difference immediately, because we did have some of these measures in place during the pandemic, but they are not- they were not enshrined for the future,” she said.  

The proposal would also restore convicted felons’ right to vote once they are released. But Chasey believes the most impactful part of the bill is the Native American Voting Rights Act.

Those provisions would give tribal governments more power in the election process, and allow members to designate tribal government buildings as their home address – if they don’t have one.

“Native Americans have had much greater challenges in getting to vote. We’re going to change that here,” said Chasey.

House Republicans raised many concerns with the Voting Rights Protections Act Tuesday night, including Alamogordo Rep. John Block.

“It opens up giant loopholes that will make sure that our elections are less safe, and disenfranchise many voters,” said Block.  

Block questioned restoring felon’s voting rights, while not also ensuring jailed suspects – who have not been convicted – can also cast a ballot.

“If you care so much about Democracy and fixing the system, making sure most people can vote, then we should add those people into the system — that was not in the bill,” Block said.  

Block was one of four Republicans who attempted to amend the bill Tuesday night.

Democrats shot down all four proposals, but Block is hopeful for the bill’s future in the senate.

“I certainly hope that we can put forward good amendments to make this bill better, because there are many good parts of this bill, but a lot of parts that are very bad that really could corrode our system,” said Block. 

Block’s proposed amendment would require an ID to vote in New Mexico. He says his attempting to do the same thing is still waiting for its first committee hearing.

Despite the debate, the bill did clear the House on a party-lines vote.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says she was pleased to see the bill clear the House.

“As other states roll back voting rights and ballot access, this bill will strengthen New Mexico’s status as leader in voter rights and voter protections,” said Toulouse Oliver. 

If approved, most of the proposed changes would be in effect for the upcoming November election. Some parts of the bill would not go into effect until 2024 and 2025.

Track House Bill 4 during the legislative session.