Round House Blow: New Mexico Enacts OVR, Other Reforms

NewMexicoCapitolSantaFe.jpg

[Image courtesy of wikimedia]

The New Mexico Capitol Building in Santa Fe is known locally as the “Round House”, and last week it was the scene of the latest legislature to enact online voter registration (OVR). It’s now law thanks to the Governor’s signature. The New Mexican’s Steve Terrell has more:

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.”

As in other states, there was tremendous enthusiasm on both sides of the aisle:

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.”

Implementation of the bill will be phased, with the online update feature coming a year before full OVR:

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 … Voters who register or update by computer will have to supply their full New Mexico driver’s license number or state identification card number.

The bill (full text here) also includes several other election provisions:

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.

New Mexico’s action – which, it appears, will be followed closely by Oklahoma – adds another state or two to the OVR list nationwide. As the list gets longer, states where OVR faces a little resistance (e.g. Florida) or a lot (Ohio, apparently) are increasingly going to be the exception and not the rule.

This is a huge step forward for New Mexico, though there is still work to be done – including, it appears, a discussion about whether drivers’ license photos will be shared with counties.

As always, stay tuned …

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