Voting rights measure working its way through the process

After a week of debate and changes, legislation heads to its next committee

By: - February 8, 2022 4:45 am

A streetcar passes a polling station on Dec. 10, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Legislation to expand and protect voting rights in New Mexico is again moving after delays, hours long public comment and several amendments that did take out a major provision. 

The Senate Rules Committee voted 7-4 to push the bill forward to the Judiciary Committee. The proposal has a ways to go before it makes it to the governor’s desk, who championed the legislation before the 30-day session. 

“I think it’s important for the public to understand that this document reflects exactly where we were at the end of Friday,” said Sen. Peter Wirth (D-Santa Fe) on Monday. 

Wirth is a sponsor of the legislation and said moving the measure forward with amendments still leaves the option for legislators to address issues or even amend the bill again.

“There’s nothing in here that wasn’t voted on. The changes just incorporate the amendments,” he said. “The purpose of this is a procedural way to wrap this up.”

Time is running short. Getting the bill through committee with the current amendments lets it move to other committees and onto the floor so lawmakers can tweak the bill, Wirth said. 

If the worst thing we had to do was sit through a long day, this is quite minimal compared to what many have had to do in the past in order to expand the right to vote.

– Maggie Toulous Oliver, NM Secretary of State

The vote comes a full week after Senate Bill 8 was supposed to be heard in the committee. However, Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto said he had concerns with the bill and asked the sponsors to redraft a new version. 

That proposal was then introduced Wednesday without debate due to time constraints. Republican members of the committee decided to grill Public Education Department Secretary Kurt Steinhaus for hours, asking his thoughts on vaccine and mask mandates in schools. The entire morning was given to Steinhaus answering their questions, but the new bill did get an introduction and a brief public comment period mid-week. 

Can voting rights and elections bills race through the rest of the session?

Ivey-Soto said he listened to concerns from people in favor of the plan that public comment was not properly addressed. So in turn on Friday, he seemingly gave the public an excess period to discuss the bill. With no limit on anyone speaking for or against the bill, the public comment period lasted more than four hours. Most people spoke remotely, even jumping back in line on the Zoom call after they already spoke. 

Several people, including John Block, a local conservative that attended the Capitol insurrection in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, offered theories that the voting bill would lead to fraud, citing unfound and debunked cases in Arizona and Georgia. 

One thing their efforts did manage was the exclusion of a provision that would have given voting rights to 16-year-olds for local elections. 

This proposal was considered a key feature of SB 8 and was taken out after the bill was amended on Friday. Secretary of State Maggie Toulous Oliver is a supporter of the bill and said the amendment to expand voting access for 16-year-olds could come back up, but it was important to get this through committee even without that provision.

“We don’t want to live or die by any one provision of this bill,” Toulous Oliver said. “It’s a big, wide sweeping bill. But we’ll have those conversations and see where they go.”

The bill will move forward without that provision, but several other major initiatives could still change if it does in fact get support from both chambers before the legislative session is scheduled to end on Feb. 17. 

For instance, SB 8 would create a list of people who prefer to vote absentee so they don’t have to file a request for a mailed ballot each election. People who are released from prison could register to vote as they leave prison if they’ve completed the conditions of their release. As things stand, they can gain the right to vote by submitting documents to the Secretary of State. 

The bill increases the use of drop-box locations for people who do vote by mail and also expands the option for voter registration at state agencies such as the Motor Vehicle Division and Human Services Department offices. 

“The fight for voting rights now is long and hard,” Toulous Oliver said. “And if the worst thing we had to do was sit through a long day, this is quite minimal compared to what many have had to do in the past in order to expand the right to vote.”

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Shaun Griswold
Shaun Griswold

Shaun Griswold is a journalist in Albuquerque. He is a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, and his ancestry also includes Jemez and Zuni on the maternal side of his family. He grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience. Most recently he covered Indigenous affairs with New Mexico In Depth. Shaun reports on issues important to Native Americans in urban and tribal communities throughout the state, including education and child welfare.

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