Automatic voter registration will not be so automatic.
In fact, a revamped proposal billed as making it easier for people to register to vote looks a lot like what’s already available in New Mexico.
Following opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, a committee of the state House of Representatives on Tuesday stripped out the “automatic” part of a proposal for registering to vote all qualified adults who get a driver’s license.
Though the new version of House Bill 28 might make it easier for some New Mexicans to sign up to vote, the change also leaves the bill well short of its original purpose.
The turnabout came just four days after two Democrats joined Republicans to table the bill to automatically register all eligible voters.
Rep. Debbie Rodella, D-Española, voted with Republicans to block the measure in the House Local Government, Elections, Land Grants and Cultural Affairs Committee after expressing opposition to the entire concept of automatic voter registration. Rodella argued that registering to vote should be a choice, though the original bill had a provision allowing people to opt out of the automatic system.
Freshman Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, also voted to table the measure, writing later on his Facebook page that he believed it was poorly drafted. He said that by voting to table the measure, he kept open the option of reviving it, provided that the bill was improved.
Ely moved during the committee’s meeting Tuesday to do just that, calling on its sponsor, Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero, to bring back the bill but with a big change.
Under the amendment proposed by Roybal Caballero, D-Albuquerque, the bill would give motorists the choice of registering to vote when signing up for a driver’s license at a Motor Vehicle Division office.
But state workers at MVD offices are already supposed to ask eligible customers if they would like to register to vote. Under House Bill 28, the question would be presented to customers on a computer screen as they complete the process of getting a driver’s license. If they press “yes,” they will be registered.
“It’s put in the hand of the voter,” Roybal Caballero said after the committee hearing.
Some legislators asked for clarification on how exactly the law would differ from what the Motor Vehicle Division is already supposed to do. Rodella and Ely nonetheless said the change seemed to be the fix they were looking for.
After little discussion, committee members voted unanimously to send the new version of the bill to a vote of the full House of Representatives.
Even if the bill passes there, wins approval in the Senate and is signed by the governor, New Mexico would not join the six states and the District of Columbia that have adopted policies to automatically register voters.