Voter registration bills meet resistance

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

A pair of House bills alllowing voters to register at the polls may be in for tough debate in the 2007 New Mexico Legislature.

One of the bills is sponsored by Mary Helen Garcia, D-Las Cruces, the state representative who carried legislation that switched the state to paper ballots last session.

She said her bill will help improve voter participation and turnout. Garcia said she doesn’t believe the measure will be too great a burden for election officials.

“There are still a low percentage of people choosing to go to the polls,” Garcia said.

“I hope this will encourage more people to participate in this great right we have to vote.”

Election officials in Roosevelt and Curry counties believe the burdens may be greater than Garcia thinks. They said ensuring that voters registering at the polls are eligible will be problematic.

“I know that it’s possible to have same-day election registration, said Curry County Election Administrator Coni Jo Lyman, who is also vice president of the New Mexico Association of County Clerks. “But we’re afraid of it as a county clerk’s association, because we don’t quite understand it.”

Roosevelt County Clerk Janet Collins shares Lyman’s concerns about checking eligibility, but notes that the number of provisional ballots cast could be cut down.

“Unless there are a lot of changes (to the election system) I can’t imagine that being very good,” Collins said of election-day registration. “I just don’t see how the elections could be as pure as they are now.”

Garcia said that her bill requires those registering to provide exactly the same information as those now registering before the 28-day cutoff.

Another election initiative before the legislature that has caught county clerks’ attention is a bill that would require counties to handle all municipal elections.

“That’s a big job to take on without additional staff,” Collins said.

She points out while county clerks are held to a higher standard for elections than individual municipalities, with that standard comes extra expense. She said that small communities now keep their costs down by printing and hand-counting their ballots.

Election bills

Some of the general bills introduced so far in this session of the state Legislature dealing with elections include:

• SB 360 — Municipal elections by county clerks

• HB 346 — Same-day voter registration

• HB 394 — Same-day voter registration

• SB 510 — Replacement of candidates on ballots

• HB 470 — Absentee in lieu of polling places in some rural areas

• SB 52 — Eliminate straight party ballot option

• HB 12 — Requiring minimum number of precinct ballots

• SB 449 — Requiring automatic recounts in certain elections

Source: New Mexico Legislature Web site

Other states with election-day registration:

• Connecticut

• Idaho

• Maine

• Montana

• New Hampshire

• Wisconsin

• Wyoming

Source: Wikipedia