Proposal to lower NM voting age blocked by Democratic committee chair

‘We should protect our children’ by not allowing them to vote, representative says

By: - February 15, 2023 4:30 am

While other bills that did not make the cut in committees were resurrected, this proposal will not return, according to one of the bill’s sponsors. (Photo by Mario Tama / Getty Images)

Even with a trifecta of Democratic majorities in the House, Senate and governor’s office, a proposal spearheaded by Democratic lawmakers to expand voting rights to 16 and 17-year-old New Mexicans died in its first committee hearing.

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee voted on Feb. 11 not to pass House Bill 217, which would have changed New Mexico’s voting law to allow people who are at least 16-years-old to vote in elections.

While other bills that did not make the cut in committees were resurrected, this proposal will not return, according to one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Christine Trujillo (D-Albuquerque). 

Committee Chair Rep. D. Wonda Johnson (D-Rehoboth) made the deciding vote to stall the legislation, saying young people should come of age before being allowed to vote. 

“I voted no because I do agree that at this time, we should grow our children into adulthood and responsibilities, and afford them this right,” Johnson said. “But also at the same time, as a Native American woman, as an auntie, as a sister, I think we should protect our children and let them be afforded and honor that process to go through their coming of age.”

The nine-member committee normally has six Democrats and three Republicans, but it did not when it met on Feb. 11.

House Majority Leader Gail Chasey was excused from the hearing, leaving five Democrats and three Republicans.

It’s unclear how Chasey would’ve voted on the matter but her absence does mean that the legislation failed with a tie vote, four in favor and four against.

‘Are we going to let 16-year-olds run for the legislature?’

Opponents argued people under 18 aren’t mature enough to vote because they think teenagers are unable to research issues or candidates, and passing the measure could create a slippery slope to other legislation lowering age requirements for things like running for public office, or signing a contract.

Rep. Martin Zamora (R-Clovis) said parents advocate for young people and could potentially influence their votes.

“The kid is gonna vote how the parent tells ‘em to,” Zamora said.

He said he is concerned about young people taking over the legislature that is predominantly made up of retirees or people late in their careers. 

“Do we really want 16-year-olds legislating or voting for their legislators that have to be 21? Or what’s our next push, are we going to let 16-year-olds run for the legislature?” Zamora asked. “If they’re old enough to vote for the legislature, I believe that they ought to be able to legislate. And that’s a scary thought.”


Rep. John Block (R-Alamogordo), one of the youngest elected members in the Roundhouse, said young people “don’t necessarily even have a stake in the game” because many young people live at home, or have never received a paycheck.

“If we’re going to treat these folks as adults at the precinct where they’re voting, I think we should also treat them as adults in real life,” Block said.

Supporters argued young people work, pay taxes, understand issues and believe adults often make poor choices on their behalf.

“I believe them, I believe that they are civically engaged,” said Rep. Kristina Ortez (D-Taos), a co-sponsor of the bill. 

Young people are sometimes even better informed than adults, she said. She pointed to a school curriculum in Canada around young people and students voting.

“That whole program started to show that young people, in their later teens, 16, 17, were well informed, and they wanted to vote, they couldn’t wait for the moment to do it,” Ortez said.

Young people’s lives debated without them

Young people all around New Mexico are already leading social movements around minority rights, working while in school, and are personally affected every day by policies passed by school boards and the Roundhouse, said Nathan Saavedra, an organizer with Equality New Mexico.

“Especially younger queer and trans students, who consistently have to hear their own lives and personhood debated in rooms where they aren’t even allowed to voice their opinions, because they aren’t under any constituency that has to listen to them,” Saavedra said.

There are 302 anti-LGBTQ bills being considered in state legislatures across the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Leila Salim, an Albuquerque activist and the expert witness on the bill, said minimum ages are what society has deemed appropriate.

“Those have changed at different moments,” Salim said.

The process of becoming an adult, Salim said, is usually and hopefully with one’s family and community, and in that time, hopefully you’re allowed to grow into it.

“We’re hoping that having the ability to vote at 16 will help folks grow into that civic engagement in their communities,” Salim said.


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Austin Fisher
Austin Fisher

Austin Fisher is a journalist based in Santa Fe. He has worked for newspapers in New Mexico and his home state of Kansas, including the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Garden City Telegram, the Rio Grande SUN and the Santa Fe Reporter. Since starting a full-time career in reporting in 2015, he’s aimed to use journalism to lift up voices that typically go unheard in public debates around economic inequality, policing and environmental racism.