New Mexico lawmakers review felon-voting rights proposal
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico proposal that would give convicted felons the right to vote while they are incarcerated or on parole drew debate Wednesday, with supporters telling lawmakers the bill represented a step toward boosting voting rights for minority groups that historically have faced disproportionately high incarceration rates.
Opponents questioned why lawmakers would consider extending voting rights for criminals, especially those convicted of violent crimes.
Under current New Mexico law, people convicted of felonies are removed from the voting rolls and prohibited from voting again until after they have completed their sentence, probation or parole.
The legislation proposed by Rep. Gail Chasey, an Albuquerque Democrat, had its first hearing before the House State Government & Indian Affairs Committee, which plans to vote on the measure at an upcoming meeting.
Chasey said statistics show 94 percent of New Mexico’s 7,000 state inmates will eventually be released, and allowing them to vote while incarcerated will help them become better engaged citizens by the time they are released.
“The debt to society that is owed and paid is the incarceration,” she said.
If approved, Chasey’s bill could make New Mexico the third state, after Maine and Vermont, to allow felons to vote while they are behind bars, according to state analysts.
New Mexico is among 16 states identified by the National Conference of State Legislatures where a felon’s voting rights are supposed to be restored automatically after they’ve completed their sentence, parole or period of probation.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, however, said her previous experience as a county clerk showed that often does not happen because the New Mexico Corrections Department does not always provide elections officials with up-to-date data.
Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, said some county clerks have supported legislation in the past that would have allowed people who served time behind bars to vote again after their release — meaning they would not have to wait until their probation or parole ended to cast a ballot.
Republican lawmakers have called the proposal radical, and also expressed concerns that it does not clarify whether inmates would be voters in the precincts or districts where they are incarcerated or where they lived before their convictions.
Toulouse Oliver said she and Chasey could work together to address that question.