Strengthen democracy: Pass automatic voter legislation

August 19, 2018

New Mexicans lost out when the state Legislature failed to pass automatic voter registration during its last session. Voting is the foundation of our democracy, the way that we participate and express how we want to run our local and federal government together.

Thanks to primary victories for the state Legislature, including mine in Northern New Mexico, we are closer to establishing this easy but transformative measure to ensure that more state residents vote and have their voices heard. Even before the New Mexico Legislature begins its next session in January of next year, legislators and candidates like myself are already organizing to make sure that we pass automatic voter registration and bring more state residents into the conversation about our state and future.

According to census data, just under 60 percent of New Mexicans are registered to vote, placing our state in the bottom five of all states. In the 2016 presidential election, just half of the eligible voters cast a ballot, the fourth lowest level of participation in the nation. Nearly half a million state residents who are eligible to vote aren’t registered. With automatic voter registration, those numbers would rise exponentially and more of us would participate in deciding our priorities and setting the agenda for our state.

Automatic voter registration works by automatically registering New Mexicans who are eligible to vote when they apply for or renew their driver’s licenses. Automatic voter registration could sign up hundreds of thousands of new voters and prevent qualified residents from being denied the right to vote due to voter registration errors. Automatic voter registration also helps voters remain registered when they move and streamlines the voting process on Election Day.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have already approved automatic voter registration.

Oregon was the first state to implement automatic voter registration. Since 2016, registration rates have quadrupled. In the first six months of 2017, Vermont’s registration rates jumped 62 percent over the previous year.

My district’s outgoing representative stood with House Republicans in opposing automatic voter registration last year, saying that citizens could decide for themselves whether to register. But automatic voter registration doesn’t compel anyone to vote; it only empowers people if they choose to do so. And because the deadline to register is so far out from Election Day — 28 days — with automatic voter registration, voters won’t be scrambling to register or be shut out of exercising their right to cast a ballot.

Politicians too often have used baseless allegations of voter fraud to roll back voting rights for our citizens, when they should instead be should be strengthening our democracy and facilitating voter participation.

Fortunately, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver already has implemented administrative changes and systems to facilitate those who would like to opt out of automatic voter registration if they choose. Thanks to her work promoting an automatic voter registration system, this legislation would make ours stronger and clearer for voters.

I look forward to working with Secretary Toulouse Oliver and my legislative colleagues to quickly pass automatic voter registration during the 2019 session of the New Mexico Legislature and moving on to establish further voting rights like same-day registration and voting. Democracy demands that we do everything we can to ensure that everyone can vote and participate.

Susan Herrera is the Democratic nominee for New Mexico House District 41.

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