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Voter registration bills advance to House

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Two bills that could allow people more opportunities to register to vote were passed out of the New Mexico House Judiciary Committee Monday.

Local state Reps. Greg Nibert of Roswell and James Townsend of Artesia joined with two other Republicans, William Rehm of Albuquerque and Zachary Cook of Ruidoso, to vote against the bills, which won the support of the Committee’s Democratic majority.

House Bill 86 (HB 86) would allow qualified electors in New Mexico — state residents legally qualified to vote — at early voting centers or polling places on the day of or in the days leading up to a primary or general election. Voters would not be able to change their party affiliation on the day of a primary election.

HB 84 would automatically register a qualified elector to vote or update their voter information when they apply for or renew a driver’s license or motor vehicle identification card at any office of the New Mexico Motor Vehicle Department (MVD).

Under the federal Motor Voter Law, people are asked if they want to register to vote when they apply for a driver’s license or motor vehicle identification card. HB 84, if signed into law, would automatically register a person to vote unless they expressly decline.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who appeared as an expert witness at Tuesday’s hearing, has endorsed both bills as common sense reforms that will save the state money, modernize New Mexico’s election system and boost voter participation.

The District of Columbia and 17 states currently have same-day voter registration, according to the National Council of State Legislators. North Carolina has early 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.

As of last November, the District of Columbia and 17 states have automatic voter registration.

Townsend said Thursday he sees HB 86 as just a way for special interest groups to get people to register and vote at elections to pass ballot initiatives.

Townsend said he opposes HB 84 because he does not think the MVD has safeguards in place that will prevent individuals who are not legally authorized to vote from registering, and there is no way to verify that people who shouldn’t have registered but do are removed from the state voter roles.

Nibert last month voted against advancing HB 86 out of the House State Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee, because of similar concerns. He was concerned that people registered in another state might also register and vote in New Mexico.

“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 at the time.

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.

Language was added to HB 86 in Monday’s hearing that replaced the words “signing an oath” with “signing an affidavit under oath that the elector has not voted in an election in this state or any other.”

Nibert said the amendment addressed one of his concerns, but several others remain such as an inability of the state’s current election software to handle same-day voter registration, lack of sufficient bandwidth at some voting locations in rural New Mexico and that counties could be forced to cover the cost of compliance.

“If these issues are addressed and New Mexico has the capability to physically accomplish this and the state does not force the counties to pay for the costs, I will fully support this effort. Until it is shown that we can do this, I will oppose same-day registration,” Nibert said in an email Wednesday.

The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office has said the state does have in place the technology needed to implement same-day voter registration.

HB 84 and HB 86 will next go before the full House for discussion and consideration by all representatives.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.