The Secretary of State’s Office has finally given the formal go-ahead for implementation of a new law that will let some 17-year-olds vote in this year’s June primary elections in New Mexico.
“After consultation with the Attorney General, the Secretary of State has confirmed that beginning May 18, 2016, 17 year olds eligible to vote pursuant to House Bill 138 will be able to vote in the June 7, 2016 primary election,” states an April 9 memo the Secretary of State’s Office sent to county clerks.
Earlier this year the N.M. Legislature and governor gave approval to a bill that lets 17-year-olds who will be 18 on the date of the general election vote in the Democratic and Republican party primaries held in June. This year the general election is Nov. 8.
But there was confusion about the date the bill takes effect — and whether it would apply to this year’s primaries. When first introduced by Rep. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, the legislation contained an emergency clause — which would have meant the bill took effect immediately upon being signed by Gov. Susana Martinez and well in advance of this year’s primaries.
However, lawmakers stripped the emergency clause from the legislation before approving it in February. The Santa Fe New Mexican reported at the time that the bill “would not go into effect until July 1, some three weeks after this year’s primary election in New Mexico. That means the soonest 17-year-olds would vote in a state primary would be 2018.”
While a July 1 effective date may have been the intent of some legislators, that’s not when this bill takes effect. As mandated by the New Mexico Constitution, bills without any specified effective date — like this one — take effect 90 days after the legislative session adjourns.
In this case, that means the legislation allowing some 17-year-olds to vote in primaries takes effect on May 18 — a few days after early voting for the June 7 primaries begins on May 10. That means eligible 17-year-olds can vote beginning May 18.
As NMPolitics.net reported in March, county clerks were already preparing to implement the new law even before the SOS confirmed that it will be in effect for this year’s primaries.
The deadline to register to vote in the June primaries is May 10. People who will be 18 or older by the next general election can register now online, at their county clerk’s office, or through a certified agent working for an independent group.
New Mexico’s primaries are closed, meaning only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans can vote in the Republican primary. So while 22 percent of registered voters in New Mexico are independents or belong to other political parties, the new law benefits only 17-year-olds who plan to register with one of the two major parties.