UPDATE: On Wednesday, March 8, the New Mexico Senate passed House Bill 4, which heads back to the House for concurrence on Senate amendments before heading to the governor’s desk.
UPDATE: On Tuesday, Feb. 21, the New Mexico House passed House Bill 4, the New Mexico Voting Rights Act. The bill passed 41 to 26 and now heads to the Democratic-controlled Senate.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — On Friday, Jan. 27, New Mexico Democrats introduced House Bill 4, the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, an omnibus pro-voting bill that floundered last year. A similar bill backed by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D) was introduced during the short 2022 legislative session but failed to pass. According to Source New Mexico, Toulouse Oliver believes that the 2023 version of the bills is better than last year’s “because it has really been spearheaded and brought to life by the advocacy community.” The bill is expected to advance through the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
The omnibus bill, which contains numerous pro-voting provisions, would:
- Establish automatic voter registration, where voters are automatically registered to vote when they interact with a department of motor vehicles, except if they opt-out later on. This policy change would align New Mexico with the 22 states and Washington D.C. Other provisions would ensure that Indian nations, tribes or pueblos and the state human services division can function as source agencies for automatic voter registration.
- Restore the right to vote for individuals who are no longer incarcerated for a felony conviction. Currently, New Mexico restores voting rights to those convicted of felonies after the completion of an entire sentence, which almost always includes probation, parole or post-release supervision. The bill outlines the registration opportunities that would be available to individuals as part of the re-entry process.
- Create a permanent absentee voter list where if a voter opts-in, they will automatically receive a mail-in ballot before every statewide election. New Mexico already offers no-excuse mail-in voting.
- Allow the state to offer more drop boxes. “Each county shall have at least two monitored secured containers,” the bill reads. “The secretary of state may approve a request by a county clerk for additional monitored secured containers in a county.”
- Ensure that pre-existing political lines are respected when adjusting precinct boundaries, allow Indian nations or tribes to request additional early voting locations, polling places and drop boxes and more. “An election day polling place located on Indian nation, tribal or pueblo lands shall not be eliminated or consolidated with other election day polling places in that election cycle without the written agreement of the Indian nation, tribe or pueblo on whose lands the election day polling place is located,” the bill adds in a subsection titled the “Native American Voting Rights Act.” Importantly, H.B. 4 would permit the use of governmental and official buildings as mailing addresses for voter registration purposes and allow tribes to designate absentee ballot assistants. It is well documented that in certain rural areas, Native Americans may have noncity-style mailing addresses which are instead based on highway numbers, P.O. boxes or solely descriptive. These nontraditional mailing addresses are often rejected for voter registration. Community ballot collection can also be a crucial tool for Native communities.
- Designate Election Day as a school holiday.
The New Mexico Voting Rights Act was introduced last year soon after the U.S. Senate failed to enact nationwide voter protections. In light of this defeat and the steady undermining of the federal Voting Rights Act by the U.S. Supreme Court over the past decade, several states have attempted to pass state-level voting rights acts, starting with Virginia in spring 2021. In June 2022, New York enacted the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of New York, which notably created a “preclearance” scheme that requires certain jurisdictions with histories of discriminatory voting practices to get approval from the state attorney general’s Civil Rights Bureau before new changes go into effect.
In the 2023 legislative session, Minnesota looks to join New Mexico in also passing an omnibus pro-voting bill, though these two bills are distinct from those enacted in Virginia and New York in that they do not create “preclearance” or “review” process for election changes.