New Mexico election official seeks same-day registration
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver will urge state lawmakers to expand automated voter registration at state agency offices and embrace other initiatives aimed at encouraging voter participation, after record-breaking turnout in the state’s midterm election.
The state’s top election and campaign finance regulator told reporters on Tuesday that she would lobby for legislation in 2019 to allow same-day voter registration and to open major party primary elections to independent voters.
“We had a very active and engaged electorate in New Mexico this election cycle,” Toulouse Oliver said. “Moving forward the goal is to sustain that level of participation.”
Nearly 700,000 votes were cast in Nov. 6 election across the state, far exceeding all previous midterm elections.
Toulouse Oliver also expressed confidence in vote counting by local election officials in Dona Ana County, where defeated Republican Congressional candidate Yvette Herrell has alleged voting irregularities without yet offering specific proof. Uncertified election results show Democrat Xochitl Torres Small won the race to succeed GOP Rep. Steve Pearce.
An unusually high number of absentee ballots in Dona Ana County took an entire day to count after polls closed.
“I feel confident that the county clerk and her staff were following statute, following procedures,” Toulouse Oliver said. The Secretary of State’s office is the process of fully verifying election results for federal, state and local races before certifying results and ordering automatic recounts in a handful of races.
The New Mexico Legislature convenes in January with an expanded Democratic majority in the House of Representatives as control of the governor’s office passes from termed-out Republican Susana Martinez to Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham.
Toulouse Oliver said technology is readily available to provide accurate same-day voter registration, citing Colorado as an example of successfully implementation. Under current law, registration closes 28 days before Election Day in New Mexico.
Toulouse Oliver said she would throw her political weight behind an anticipated bill to allow “modified open primaries” that allow voters who are unaffiliated with a major party to participate in primary elections.
She appeared less likely to support an initiative allowing major political parties to determine whether outsiders can participate in their primary elections. Currently, primary voting is restricted to voters affiliated with three major parties: Republican, Democratic and Libertarian.
Toulouse Oliver said she believes that system would encourage engagement in elections, especially among residents who don’t want to be associated publicly with a political party.
Qualified voters in New Mexico can opt to register to vote electronically as they apply for driver’s licenses and other motor vehicle documents. Toulouse Oliver expressed support for expanding automated registration to other state agencies including the Human Services Department that administers Medicaid and food stamps programs.
Toulouse Oliver won re-election by a wide margin on Nov. 6. She first won election to the office in 2016 to serve out a four-year term begun by Republican Dianna Duran, who resigned in 2015 and served jail time on an embezzlement conviction for using campaign funds to fuel a gambling addiction.