Legislation that would afford New Mexico voters to register to vote on Election Day passed a key House committee Wednesday, despite opposition from some Chaves County elected officials.
House Bill 86 (HB 86) passed the State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee with a Do Pass recommendation by a vote of 5 to 3. The New Mexico Legislature’s official website states the bill will next be taken up for consideration in the House Judiciary Committee.
As written, HB 86 would allow a qualified elector — a resident of New Mexico legally eligible to vote in elections — the ability to register to vote at a polling place or early voting center on the day of a primary or general election in the precinct where they reside.
HB 86 would not let voters change their party affiliation when they register at an early voting site or polling place in a primary election.
Existing New Mexico law prohibits a person from voting in an election if they register within 28 days of that election.
The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office has come out in support of HB 86 and said in the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report that on average there is a 5 percent increase in voter participation when people can register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day.
The District of Columbia and 17 states currently have same-day voter registration, according to the National Council of State Legislators. North Carolina also allows for same-day voter registration but only during the early voting period preceding Election Day. The state of Washington has passed same-day voter registration but has not yet implemented it.
HB 86 does have its critics. State Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, a member of the State Government, Elections & Indian Affairs Committee, joined two other Republicans to vote against the bill in committee.
Nibert said in an interview Thursday he is concerned HB 86 will leave elections in New Mexico susceptible to voter fraud, and could be an unfunded mandate for counties.
According to the bill’s Fiscal Impact Report, the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office states they do not foresee same-day voter registration costing the state any money and that costs associated with compliance would be handled by the counties.
“So those issues, in my opinion, were never satisfactorily addressed by proponents of the bill, so I voted against it,” Nibert said.
He worries people from outside of New Mexico — such as non-citizens — could end up registering and voting in an election.
“We have a lot of people that freely go back and forth between Texas and New Mexico, many on a daily basis, and what would prevent them from participating in the election in Texas, and then coming to New Mexico, register to vote in New Mexico?” Nibert asked.
HB 86 states a person must complete a registration certification, take an oath in a form prescribed by the New Mexico Secretary of State and provide proof of residence in order to register.
A qualified elector could prove residence for registration by showing a valid New Mexico driver’s license or identification card, a document that has a valid address with a picture identification card or a current student fee statement that has the student’s valid address, according to the bill.
Nibert said many people are able to obtain a driver’s license in New Mexico to drive — such as non-citizens and others — who are not legally allowed to take part in elections. He added that he thinks a driver’s license would have to be a federally recognized driver’s license because those have attributes of citizenship.
Dave Kunko — Chaves County clerk and chair of the Clerk’s Affiliate, an organization of county clerks throughout New Mexico — said the majority of clerks within his group oppose the bill in its current form, partly because counties would need additional funding to comply with its requirements.
He added that the group is attempting to get together with the bill’s sponsors and address some issues with the bill, such as funding to implement the requirements.
“We definitely all agree that it would need additional funding, and that needs to be included in the bill,” Kunko said.
Expenses to implement same-day voter registration would include additional computers and a temporary employee with training in voter registration at each polling site or early voting center, Kunko said.
Internet connectivity in some parts of New Mexico is also a challenge, something needed to access the statewide electronic voter file in real-time, a requirement of the bill.
If a county lacks access to the file, HB 86 states a person who registers at a polling place or early voting center must be offered a provisional ballot.
Kunko said he also worries the statewide voter system might not be able to handle the influx of new voter registrations that would come in the lead up to Election Day.
The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office believes they have the capability to institute same-day voter registration.
“New Mexico’s current voting systems already have the capacity for same-day voter registration and Secretary (Maggie) Toulouse Oliver looks forward to working with county clerks to ensure they have the resources and support needed to make it a success for New Mexico voters,” Alex Curtas, a spokesperson with the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office said Thursday in an email.
Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at email@example.com.