Legislation to repeal the law that allows illegal immigrants to get driver’s licenses often is cited as the most divisive issue the Legislature likely will deal with during the upcoming session. But another highly controversial and highly partisan issue also will be debated at the Roundhouse during the 30-day session.
The issue is a perennial one in New Mexico — “voter ID,” which is political shorthand for requiring voters to show photo identification before voting. The chief of staff for Secretary of State Dianna Duran confirmed Tuesday that Duran will push for such legislation in the session. And a spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez said Tuesday that the governor would grant a message for the bill to allow it to be addressed in the upcoming session.
In this state, as in other states across the country, Republicans support the voter ID idea, saying it’s needed to protect against vote fraud — such as people using someone else’s name to vote. However, Democrats counter that there’s no evidence that massive voter fraud actually exists and claim that the whole idea is a Republican scheme to repress voter turnout among the elderly, young voters and minorities. Those groups are the most likely not to have voter identification. And, historically, these groups tend to vote for Democrats.
In recent years, Democrats, who control the Legislature, have been successful in stopping voter ID bills. Normally these bills are tabled — by party-line votes — in the first committees in which they are heard following heated, usually lengthy debate.
“Voter ID has been the hottest topic of legislation in the field of elections [in 2011],” the website for the National Conference of State Legislatures says. According to the organization, 20 states that had no voter ID law, including New Mexico, considered such bills last year. Of those, three states — Wisconsin, Kansas and Rhode Island — enacted new voter ID laws, while Mississippi voters approved a citizen’s initiative for voter ID.
In addition, 14 states that had non-photo ID laws considered bills to require photo identification. Three of those states — South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas — enacted such legislation, while a fourth, Alabama, adopted a less-strict ID law.
Last month the U.S. Justice Department rejected South Carolina’s new law, saying it makes it harder for minorities to cast ballots. South Carolina is one of nine southern states that, under the federal Voting Rights Act, are required to have election laws approved by the Justice Department. This is because of the state’s past failure to protect the voting rights of blacks.
A New Mexico voter ID law would not be subject to federal approval.