New Mexico Vote Matters first came into existence in 2011, so this is its first session after an election cycle — but representatives of the group feel that the young group was successful in its mission this year.
“Luckily on the elections front this year, we got to play a lot of offense and not defense, which was fantastic,” executive director Oriana Sandoval told New Mexico Telegram in a phone interview.
Ariel Bickel said that their work will not be over after sine die and the end of the session.
“Getting things done legislatively is just one way of getting things done,” Bickel said, hinting at possible lawsuits.
“The legislative option is one way of various and diverse different routes that we can take to obtain our objective and our goal to make sure voters are protected and have access,” Sandoval said, echoing Bickel’s statement.
And on the issues that the group did play defense on, none even made it past the committee process.
These included bills that would require photo ID to vote and one that would have increased the penalties for registration or voter fraud from a fourth-degree felony to a third-degree felony.
On offense, however, the group had some big successes.
“We got three of our bills on the governor’s desk,” Sandoval said.
Sandoval made sure to note that New Mexico Vote Matters did not do this alone — the group was joined by Common Cause New Mexico, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, America Votes and other groups in making the victories happen.
Two of the bills were sponsored by Rep. Jim Smith, R-Sandia Park, and Sen. Tim Keller, D-Albuquerque.
One is HB 225 which would allow voters to update their voter registration online through the Motor Vehicle Department. The other, HB 497, would allow voters to update their information directly through the website of the Secretary of State.
The other bill that NMVM was supporting and now sits on the governor’s desk is HB 219, which would require adequate staffing on election day at the polls.
Two other bills (HB 524 to mandate early voting sites for rural areas if they have a certain population and HB 157 to allow 17 year olds to vote if they would be 18 by election day) reached the Senate floor after clearing the House.
“Unfortunately we ran out of time,” Sandoval said.
Overall, Sandoval felt as if it was a successful session for the group’s priorities.
“I think it was fantastic To get five of our bills through both of the chambers and heard on the floor and to get three on the governor’s desk,” Sandoval said.
Bickel told NM Telegram that some of these bills came from significant problems on election day last November.
“To see that while voting went really well in so many parts of the state, we had some pretty serious problems in a couple of different counties, Sandoval and Otero,” Bickel said. “Frankly there were issues in other places because you’ve got people in communities who are trying to do what they can to dissuade voters, lets put it that way.”
But Bickel says this isn’t an isolated incident, just the latest and most well-publicized incident of such problems with voting.
Bickel and Sandoval say they will continue their efforts throughout the year.
Oriana says they will be “Continuing to build relationships without community partners throughout the state and continue with the voter education process and the civic engagement empowerment process.”
Bickel says their efforts are supported by the public.
“The public is saying ‘We’re going to challenge being asked for voter ID illegally,” Bickel said. “We’re going to challenge being denied access to the voting booth.’”
Correction: A previous version of this story had Sandoval’s name incorrect.