Democratic lawmakers hope to expand voting rights

SANTA FE, NM (KRQE) – Democratic leaders announced their intention to expand voting rights and access to people across New Mexico with what is known as the 2023 Voting Rights Act. A group of senior Democratic lawmakers announced on Tuesday they want to expand access to absentee ballots, make voting easier for those formerly incarcerated and make provisions to give native communities better access to vote.

“There is always room for improvement. We can always do a better job. We can always make our elections safer, more accurate, more fair and more accessible. None of these things are mutually exclusive. We can walk and chew gum at the same time,” said New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

House Speaker Javier Martinez joined Toulouse Oliver and the sponsors and advocates of this bill in expressing their goal of keeping New Mexico at the forefront of voting rights. Proponents say other provisions of the bill include better protection of voter information and the creation of a permanent “opt-in” mail-in list.

Stakeholders spoke about what this Voting Rights Act would mean for them. “Participating in the functions of society means I no longer resort to self-harm, substance abuse, isolation stemming from bad choices and incarceration,” says Justin Allen of OLÉ New Mexico.

“Indians face obstacles at every turn throughout the political process. This law will increase voter turnout and access across the state by addressing many of these barriers through Native American voter provisions,” said Ahtza Dawn Chavez of New Mexico Native Vote.

The New Mexico Secretary of State says she and the governor led a similar bill at the last session, but it fell through after a delaying tactic by Senator Bill Sharer. He made a lengthy filibuster to delay a vote.

Lawmakers stressed that this 60-day session is the time to try to enforce this law — to “protect democracy,” according to Martinez, especially after a recent spate of political violence in the state.

Lawmakers say the bill will be tabled later this week, where we’ll take a better look at the new provisions. Proponents say a key difference from last year’s Voting Rights Act is that it doesn’t ask to allow those under 18 to vote.