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OpEd By N.M. Delegation Published in the Santa Fe New Mexican: New Mexico will boost democracy with its Voting Rights Act

WASHINGTON – As states across the country continue to strip back protections, the New Mexico Congressional Delegation is urging the New Mexico Legislature to pass the landmark 2023 New Mexico Voting Rights Act (NMVRA), House Bill 4.

In an op-ed published by the Santa Fe New Mexican, U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández (D-N.M.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), and Gabe Vasquez (D-N.M.) urge the Legislature to pass the historic voting rights proposal that expands voter access in New Mexico, improves accessibility, security, and fairness in future elections.

New Mexico will boost democracy with its Voting Rights Act

By U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Representatives Teresa Leger Fernández, Melanie Stansbury, and Gabe Vasquez

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

On Jan. 6, 2021, a group of insurrectionists sought to overthrow a legitimate American election, challenging the very core of our democracy. Our democracy bent, but it did not break. But that dark day showed us that maintaining and protecting our democracy requires vigilance and action.

Two years later, the fight over the very foundation of our democracy — our right to vote — continues in the states. Some political leaders across the nation, who value their own partisan fortunes over our shared democratic values, have leveraged their power to disenfranchise voters. These shameful efforts hearken back to an era where our elected officials and our very own Constitution barred African Americans, Native Americans and women from voting. New Mexicans will not succumb to this brazen assault on our nation’s democracy that attempts to drag us back to a world without trust in our most basic institutions. No, we’re looking forward to a brighter future for all of us — and that starts with voting rights.

While states across the country continue to strip back protections, attacking our sacred right to vote, all of us in New Mexico’s Congressional Delegation are united. At the end of last year, Congress passed bipartisan reforms to the Electoral Count Act and stronger security measures to protect nonpartisan local elections workers. We will continue fighting to pass federal legislation like the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Native American Voting Rights Act to guarantee every single voter can access the ballot.

At the state level, the New Mexico Legislature is currently considering the landmark 2023 New Mexico Voting Rights Act, House Bill 4. This historic voting rights proposal is based on one simple premise: whether you live in the heart of a big city, in a rural area, or in a tribal community, all voters deserve a streamlined, secure and inclusive voting process. Amid a wave of anti-democracy sentiment nationwide, New Mexico has the opportunity to stand out as a national leader by passing the New Mexico Voting Rights Act and demonstrating how democracy should work — with elections that are free, fair, and accessible.

Sponsored by Speaker of the House Javier Martínez, D-Albuquerque; House Majority Floor Leader Gail Chasey; D-Albuquerque, Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque; Rep. Raymundo Lara, D-Doña Ana; and Rep. D. Wonda Johnson, D-Church Rock, the pro-voter HB 4 includes a host of common-sense steps to further protect the fundamental right to vote for all eligible New Mexicans. It sets a powerful example for the rest of the country.

Our state is rich in cultural and geographic diversity. Any voting rights legislation considered in New Mexico should include key protections for tribal communities and easy access to voter registration systems from the most rural stretches of our state to our urban centers. HB 4 includes all of these necessary improvements and goes even further by creating a permanent absentee ballot list, which will ensure that every New Mexican voter has the opportunity to cast a ballot regardless of access to transportation, or work, family and community obligations.

All Native American voters must have the time and resources to exercise their right to vote. The 23 Native American tribes and pueblos in New Mexico make up 12.4% of our state’s population. It is unacceptable for Indigenous communities in a free and fair democracy to be subjected to different standards when it comes to requesting resources to vote, including early voting. HB 4 remedies this by strengthening Native rights in the electoral process, ensuring tribes and pueblos can request additional polling places and ballot drop boxes on tribal lands eliminating a double standard that has made this harder than in other municipalities in the state.

The bill will also allow tribes and pueblos to secure sufficient language assistance and ensure no voter on tribal lands is denied the right to vote because they do not receive mail at their home address. It will also require the Secretary of State and county commissioners to align precinct boundaries with those of each tribal nation. These provisions will ensure that voters living on tribal lands have their rights to the ballot protected for generations to come.

Through the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, our legislators have a critical opportunity to upgrade our state’s partial automatic voter registration system to the gold standard of secure automatic voter registration. Not only does this process have the potential to double the impact of New Mexico’s current partial automatic voter registration system, but more young voters, voters of color, low-income voters and rural voters will be registered to vote.

Finally, the bill includes the restoration of voting rights for formerly incarcerated people who have served their time. This would help increase civic engagement and reduce recidivism.

Our democracy works best when all eligible voters can safely and consistently exercise their freedom to vote, without needless barriers. HB 4 is the culmination of years of collaboration with community members and tribal leaders from all over the state and truly demonstrates New Mexico’s leadership in advancing our democracy. With this legislation, New Mexico will keep elections safe, secure, accurate and modern. At a time when other states are rolling back voting rights, HB 4 expands voter access in New Mexico, improving accessibility, security and fairness in future elections.