The New Mexico Voting Rights Act is coming back, lawmakers and proponents say

June 26, 2018 is a day that Adam Griego will never forget throughout his life: the beginning of his journey to incarceration, first in Texas, then in Oklahoma and finally in federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

Once someone gets caught up in the criminal justice system, Griego said, even after they’re released, it keeps them incredibly gripped on many counts, including denial of the right to vote.

“Most people are unaware of the extent that they are essentially being wiped off the face of the earth during this process,” he said. “They are completely removed from society and deprived of all rights.”

The last time Griego was allowed to vote was in 2012. When he got out of prison on September 9, 2020, he said he asked his parole officer if he could vote and she told him no.

“Our inability to engage in civic engagement increases our chances of a return to prison and is a prime example of unrepresentative taxation,” Griego told a small gathering in the Rotunda of the New on Jan. 17, the opening day of the 2023 legislative session Mexico Capitol.

He and others from Organizers in the Land of Enchantment, the ACLU of New Mexico, and the Sentencing Project were there to advocate for restoring voting rights to more people with criminal convictions.

This year, advocates hope to extend voting rights to about 6,325 people who are currently on parole or parole, said Justin Allen, inclusive democracy organizer at Organizers in the Land of Enchantment.

A high-profile package in the 2022 New Mexico legislature known as the Voting Rights Act would have made it easier for people with criminal convictions to vote, along with a host of other voter enhancements. It eventually made it to the state Senate, but died in part thanks to a filibuster by a Republican lawmaker in the closing hours of the session.

The Secretary of State discusses details of NM’s Voting Rights Act

The proposal will be included in a bill that is expected to be called the New Mexico Voting Rights Act again, said Marie-Pier Frigon, spokeswoman for organizers in the Land of Enchantment.

Senator Katy Duhigg said she will support the legislation in the Senate.

“We hope it will be filed soon,” Frigon said.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver supports the “restoration of voting rights and will advocate for it at this meeting,” spokesman Alex Curtas said on Friday.

Curtas said there will likely be a voting rights bill similar to the one seen at the last session, but he’s not sure exactly what it will contain or when it will be tabled.

Last year’s bill would have automatically registered a voter when they contacted their driver’s license office, expanded voting rights for 16-year-olds in local and school board elections, and required counties to provide at least one ballot box.

New Mexico Black Leadership Council founder and director Cathryn McGill said passing the proposal to expand the franchise to include those with criminal convictions was good governance.

“Based on what I know about the history of the New Mexico election and the types of individuals seeking a restoration of rights, I will never be convinced that there are any downsides to this reasonable, reasonable request,” McGill said.

Eternal Punishment

In the US, the state governments not allow approximately 5.8 million people with felony convictions (and in some states with misdemeanor convictions) to vote.

New Mexico law already allows for the restoration of voting rights for people convicted of crimes and fulfilling their sentences and all the conditions of their probation or parole, but this does not always happen.

If you are incarcerated in New Mexico after your release date – because there are insufficient resources outside of prison to meet mental health needs — You cannot register again to vote. And if you’ve served your sentence but are on parole and probation, you won’t be able to re-register to vote.

Researchers at The Sentencing Project found 17,572 New Mexicans were barred from voting in the midterm elections two months ago because of these exceptions in the law.

Report shows over 17,000 New Mexicans barred from voting during midterm elections

The Sentencing Project estimates that 64% of disenfranchised adults in New Mexico live in the community.

Griego said this denial of the right to vote could be seen as a form of “eternal punishment”.

“Why doesn’t our voice mean anything or doesn’t anyone want to hear from us?” he asked.

Nicole Porter, Senior Director of Advocacy at the Sentencing Project. said the franchise’s expansion is part of a long arc to combat mass incarceration.

In New Mexico, she said, like the rest of the country, the number of disenfranchised has risen in tandem with the number of inmates since the early 1970s, she said.

These policies disproportionately harm Blacks, Hispanics and Indigenous people through a range of practices, she said, including disproportionate police stops and excessive drug arrests.

“Public safety is not defined solely by arrest. Civic engagement can also make New Mexico safer,” Porter said.

People who have been incarcerated are less likely to be sentenced again if they return to their communities and work, pay taxes and feel connected and invested in the future, she said.

Among those with prior arrests, there are “consistent differences between voters and non-voters in rates of subsequent arrest, imprisonment, and self-reported criminal behavior.” according to to Christopher Uggen from the University of Minnesota and Jeff Manza from New York University.

other research suggests It found that people living in states that continued to restrict voting rights after incarceration had a higher likelihood of being arrested again than people living in states where their voting rights could be restored.

In Houston, people in prison can still vote

Griego has two full-time jobs, is an active member of his church in Santa Fe, teaches a college-level heating and air conditioning course, “and just can’t escape the constant judgment of being a so-called ‘criminal.’ ”

He is scheduled to end his probation early at the end of January.

“The label follows me everywhere I turn,” he said. “As a society, we need to learn the value of humanity. People make mistakes, and I believe that’s part of growth – but should it follow a person everywhere for the rest of their life?”

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