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Voter ID Bills Fail in Committee

By Matthew Reichbach

Three voter ID bills failed in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday on party-line votes.

The Democrats on the committee voted to table the three bills that would have required voters show photo identification, siding with the majority of the crowd at the hearing who said the bill would disenfranchise young, elderly, minority and disabled voters as well as costing significantly more than the Fiscal Impact Report predicted.

The three pieces of legislation, all sponsored by Republicans, were tabled after a lengthy hearing process that included over half an hour of public comment.

The bill sponsored by Rep. Dianne Hamilton (R-Silver City) would have allowed voters to use the last four numbers of their Social Security Number to prove their identity at the polls. The version of ID legislation sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad) would require a government-issued photo ID to vote in person and, to cast an absentee ballot, a copy of the photo ID would be required.

The bill sponsored by Rep. James Smith (R-Sandia Park) was the result of work during the interim by county clerks and Smith. A complex bill, it was one that the county clerks would prefer to the other voter ID approaches, according to the county clerks association lobbyist Daniel Ivey-Soto.

Opponents rallied against the bills

An array of organizations, ranging from the League of Women Voters to Disability Rights New Mexico to the Native American Voters Alliance, opposed the legislation on the grounds that it would disenfranchise voters and would do little to solve purported voter fraud.

The majority of the crowd present in the committee room were in opposition.

Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque) said he didn’t believe that voter fraud was a problem in the state, comparing it to the “bogeyman.”

“If my constituents want me to introduce legislation to outlaw the bogeyman, I can introduce legislation to outlaw the bogeyman, or I can gently explain to them that the bogeyman does not exist,” Maestas said to laughter from the crowd.

Committee chair Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque) opposed the bills and singled out Smith’s bill as overly complicating the absentee ballot, saying, “I find the absentee ballot daunting as it is.”

And Rep. Bill O’Neill (D-Albuquerque) said he the claims of voter fraud all seemed to be based on anecdotes rather than any real evidence.

Republicans vow to fight on

Hamilton vowed to bring the legislation back again. This is the fourth time that Hamilton has attempted to make voter ID the law and it is the fourth time the attempt has failed.

In the hearing, Hamilton compared it to the efforts of Chasey to end the death penalty in New Mexico. After years of efforts, the death penalty was repealed in 2009 under then-Gov. Bill Richardson.

Brown said, “It’s not a poll tax and it’s not an unfair burden.” Brown also cited a Supreme Court decision which upheld an Indiana voter ID law.

Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a former state Senator, said the legislature should address this even if there was only a “perception” of vote fraud, a remark that opponents repeatedly focused on during the subsequent public comment period.

Odds and Ends

  • Chasey brandished a list of names that she said were legal voters in her district who were investigated as part of Duran’s claims of illegal voting in elections.
  • Kati Sheridan of Albuquerque said she was turned away from the polls in an Albuquerque municipal election because she did not have a photo ID with her and that it was a burden to get to the polling place because she did not drive.
  • A report by New Mexico Voices for Children (pdf) found that the cost of implementing Voter ID would be $1.8 annually — nearly twice that of the predictions by the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office last year.During the hearing, NMVC Policy Director Bill Jordan said, “The discussion just sounds like we’re tearing down democracy.”
  • At least one verified case of voter fraud has surfaced recently. On Saturday, Indiana Secretary of State Charlie White, a proponent of Voter ID, was convicted of multiple counts of voter fraud despite the state having instituted a strict voter ID law.
  • In other business, the committee voted to table a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed independent voters to vote in Democratic or Republican primaries according to Steve Terrell of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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