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Congress seeks input on election reform in New Mexico

April 11, 2022 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s top elections regulator and voting rights advocates described efforts to combat disinformation and intimidation at the polls and ensure voting access for minority groups, as Democrats on a congressional subcommittee gathered testimony Monday to inform their work on election initiatives.

The field hearing led by Democratic U.S. Rep G. K. Butterfield of North Carolina highlighted New Mexico as a leader in efforts to expand voter access and as a counterpoint to a wave of restrictive new voting laws in Republican-led states, many of which were inspired by former President Donald Trump’s false claims of a stolen 2020 election.

New Mexico’s two Democratic congresswomen — Reps. Teresa Leger Fernandez and Melanie Stansbury — attended the hearing and called for changes to Senate filibuster rules that have been instrumental in blocking voting rights legislation in Washington.

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In January, Senate Democrats fell far short of the 60 votes needed to push past a Republican filibuster of the House-approved Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, which would make Election Day a national holiday, ensure access to early voting and mail-in ballots, and enable the Justice Department to intervene in states with a history of voter interference, among other changes.

There were no congressional Republicans in attendance at Monday’s field hearing of the House administration elections subcommittee.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told the congressional panel that the “current national discourse about voting and elections have been infected with a disturbing amount of misinformation about how elections are run and about the measures in place to secure the vote.”

Toulouse Oliver pressed for additional federal funding to underwrite election cyber-security as well as physical safety at the polling places.

She insisted that voting access can be expanded while also ensuring the security and integrity of elections.

“Although policies like same-day registration are sometimes presented as giving an unfair advantage to Democrats, I should note that more Republican voters utilized same-day registration in the 2020 general election than any other party” in New Mexico, she said.

Heather Ferguson of the progressive watchdog group Common Cause New Mexico said New Mexico stands out as a “beacon of light” against states proposing to restrict voting access. She also called attention to vehicle caravans in recent elections that block or intimidate voters at polling locations.

Separately, Ahtza Dawn Chavez of New Mexico Native Vote noted that it has only been 74 years since a court overturned a New Mexico law that had prevented Native Americans from voting, and that changes are still needed to shore up Native American participation in elections.

A far-reaching state elections bill to expand voting access and protect election workers from harassment failed this year to win approval from the Democratic-led New Mexico Legislature.