Republicans panic over increased voter turnout

February 17, 2019

Recently, the 2019 legislative session has been highlighted by Republican efforts to oppose a same-day voter registration law, House Bill 86, which would allow voters to both register and vote on election day. The existing law in New Mexico requires that a voter first register to vote, then be ineligible for a 28-day waiting period, then be allowed to vote.

Many people don’t focus on elections until a few weeks before election day. If they are a new voter, they often discover that they are ineligible to vote unless they register at least 28 days before election day. My own experience canvassing neighborhoods before the last election was that this knocked out quite a few people who wanted to vote, particularly young people or people who recently moved to New Mexico. HB 86 would solve this problem and increase voter participation in our elections.

Voting is a constitutional right for citizens and we should not be putting up or maintaining unnecessary barriers to allowing people to vote. Same-day voter registration is an idea whose time has come, and at least 16 states, including our neighbors in Colorado and Utah, now have same-day voter registration. The current New Mexico secretary of state, who formerly was the county clerk of Bernalillo County and is an expert on voting procedures, testified in favor of HB 86. New Mexico should join this voter modernization effort.

I would note that groups and people who want to limit voter participation often raise the possibility of voter fraud, particularly noncitizen voter fraud, as reason for their opposition. It is important to protect election integrity, but we should not undermine fair access to the ballot box in the name of baseless claims of potential voter fraud.

The Albuquerque Journal expressed its opposition to HB 86 (“Editorial: 3 elections bills miss the real need of NM voters,” Jan. 28), and cited “recent problems in Doña Ana County” as justification for its opposition. The reference was to the U.S. House of Representatives election won by Las Cruces Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, who now represents Southern New Mexico (including Roswell) in Congress. The Journal published extensive coverage of this issue, including a picture of five lawyers for the losing Republican candidate combing through absentee ballots in the vain hope that they could find technical issues that would get the election results overturned. Ultimately, the Republicans never filed a court challenge because Torres Small won the election fair and square.

Voter convenience laws such as HB 86 effectively increase citizen participation in our elections and should be signed into law. The Legislature should encourage full participation so that people can make their own choices about the important issues in their lives and communities.

Bob Carroll has lived and worked in Roswell for over 25 years. He is active in the Roswell Indivisible group and focuses on election laws.