SANTA FE — Working deep into the night, the state House passed a bill Tuesday that would expand automatic voter registration at MVD offices and establish a permanent absentee voter list.
The proposal, House Bill 4, won approval on an 41-26 vote, sending it over to the state Senate.
Democrats praised the bill as a significant expansion of voting rights in New Mexico.
“Letting every voice be heard, that’s what we want,” Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said.
Republicans, in turn, blasted the idea of registering people to vote without their consent — even if briefly — and questioned whether the legislation has adequate protections to ensure only legitimate ballots are counted.
Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, raised the prospect of illegal ballot deliveries to drop boxes required by the bill.
“This seems be one area,” he said, “where I think there’s a weak point.”
House Majority Leader Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat who presented the bill, said the boxes called for in the bill would be secure and monitored.
She described the legislation as “a major step forward for protecting the right to vote for our citizens in New Mexico.”
The legislation would:
— Phase in automatic voter registration during some transactions at Motor Vehicle Division offices, such as when a person presents documents proving citizenship while applying for a driver’s license.
Newly registered voters would be told they’ve been added to the voter rolls and that they’ll get a postcard in the mail allowing them to decline the registration.
— Allow voters to sign up once to get absentee ballots before every election.
— Restore the voting rights of felons when they leave custody rather than after they complete probation or parole.
— Make Election Day a school holiday.
— Enact a Native American Voting Rights Act to better coordinate access to the polls on tribal land.
— Require each county to have at least two secured, monitored boxes for people to drop off absentee ballots.
Four Democrats in the House — Speaker Javier Martínez of Albuquerque, Chasey, Doreen Wonda Johnson of Shiprock and Raymundo Lara of Chamberino — are jointly sponsoring the bill. The bill is also sponsored by Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque.
It passed largely along party lines about 11:20 p.m. after three hours of debate.