New law will put voter services online

Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque

New Mexico voters will be able to go online to update their addresses and other information on state voter rolls — and eventually even register to vote online — under a bill that was signed into law by Gov. Susana Martinez.

Backers of Senate Bill 643 — which sailed through the state Senate and the House of Representatives without a dissenting vote — say the new law will modernize the state’s voter registration system, help clean up the voter rolls and will make registration more convenient for voters. Martinez signed it on Friday.

“I’m thrilled with the final version [of the bill] and thrilled the governor signed it,” the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Lisa Torraco, R-Albuquerque, said in an interview Monday. “It really brings us ahead of other states.”

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, also was enthusiastic about the success of the bill. “As far as important, nonpartisan consensus legislation on elections, this was a huge session,” he told The New Mexican on Monday. In addition to online registration and updating, Torraco’s bill was amended to roll in several other election bills — all sponsored or co-sponsored by Ivey-Soto.

“Paperless registration allows states to reach many under-registered populations, like college students who have regular access to Internet and are culturally comfortable conducting business online,” said Viki Harrison, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico. And, she added, “allowing people to update and register online ensures more eligible New Mexicans will be able to cast their ballot in elections.”

Torraco said allowing voters to update their addresses online will be a huge help to voters as well as county clerks and other election administrators. “People never think of updating their registrations with their new addresses when they move,” she said. “This makes it a lot easier and helps assure the voter rolls are up to date.”

Harrison, in an interview, said she only wishes that the electronic registration provisions would be implemented sooner than is called for in the new law. Under the law, the secretary of state has until Jan. 1, 2016, to implement a system by which a voter can update his registration information and until Jan. 1, 2017, to have a system in which a new voter can register via computer.



But only those who have valid New Mexico driver’s licenses or identification cards issued by the state Motor Vehicle Division will be able to register to vote or update information on the system. “That’s the security aspect of the bill,” Ivey-Soto said. “This will protect against someone in Pakistan from registering 100 times. You have to have an MVD record.” Voters who register or update by computer will have to supply their full New Mexico driver’s license number or state identification card number.

After Torraco’s bill cleared the House — on the final night of the legislative session — former state Sen. Rod Adair cheered its passage, writing on his New Mexico Political Journal blog that “New Mexicans got a form of photo voter ID after all.” He noted that the bill will allow the Motor Vehicle Division to include the photos from driver’s licenses and identification cards in the information the agency will provide for online voter registrations.

Ivey-Soto said Monday that there’s nothing in the bill requiring the MVD to provide photos. However, he said, there’s no language in the law that would prevent the agency from providing photos for the voter rolls.

Both Ivey-Soto and Torraco said that people who don’t have access to computers or don’t want to register online will still be able to register by filling out paper forms.

The final version of SB 643 includes the Uniform Military & Overseas Voters Act, which put all rules applying to ballots from military personnel and other overseas voters in one section in the state election code. Ivey-Soto said there also is a section that allows New Mexico first-responders who are helping out in fires, floods or other disasters out of state before an election to vote absentee.

It includes provisions that allow the secretary of state to compare state voter rolls with those of other states as well as with state and federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration. The bill also provides cleanup language, advocated by the state’s county clerks.

Contact Steve Terrell at sterrell@sfnewmexican.com. Read his political blog at http://tinyurl.com/roundhouseroundup.

(4) comments

Michelle Meaders

So how do you prove that you are you when you go online? Just because you can enter a number from a document doesn't prove you are the voter. I don't see that a signature, photo or thumbprint are required.

On the other hand, why do our NM Sec. of State and Gov. think it's too risky to let people register or update in person during early voting? The polling places are connected to the state's computers, so they could easily check for duplicate registrations. Maybe next year.

Meredith Machen

The League of Women Voters is very pleased with the new law that requires NM to electronic voter registration at MVDs! This time let’s hope it happens. In 2013, the Legislature passed HB225, which required electronic voter registration at MVDs, but the system failed miserably. We first complained to state officials when we saw that only 849 of the 15,198 people who had indicated that they wanted to register to vote had completed the online process. MVD's computer system was unable to provide the required simultaneous electronic system, so staff sent applicants to computer kiosks or home with a lengthy URL they could type into a computer. No wonder that in part of 2014 voter registration at MVDs declined by about 75% from 2012 levels. We're optimistic that MVD’s new computer system will work as expected and that the problems we’ve had to complain about will fade from memory as we celebrate increased registrations. Most importantly we need to make sure that registered voters actually go to the polls! The turnout in NM in 2014 was only 19% for the primaries and 38% for the general election. Our state and our country need much greater voter participation if we want a representative democracy, not one that is so heavily influenced by corporate donors and special interests. Meredith Machen

Michael Grimler

I'm OK with this...but, only if there's a way to validate US citizenship prior to finalizing the voter registration process.

Oh...wait...all one has to do is LIE on the voter registration form that they are a US citizen.

I'm sure the online process will be even easier for non-US citizens to register, vote, and therefore have a say in our politics for years to come.

Is that really what we want in this country?

I hope to God it's not.

Barbara Goedecke

What bothers me is the apparent lack of specific funding to accomplish this task. How are the County Clerks supposed to do this? Or will it all be done by the SOS.

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