Common Cause on 2023 Session’s Historic Election Bills and Failure of Modernization Amendments

The 2023 session brought a historic victory in a key priority for Common Cause New Mexico: protection of voting rights and election security.  The passage of HB 4, and SB 180 and 43 will expand access to the polling place (HB 4), ensure efficient election administration (SB 180) and protect poll workers and election officials (SB 43).

“At a time when other states are rolling back voting rights, we are protecting these bedrock elements of democracy here in New Mexico,” said Mason Graham, Common Cause New Mexico’s policy director.  “We are proud to have worked with the bills’ many sponsors, the NM Secretary of State, and a growing coalition of organizations sworn to move forward, not backward when it comes to protecting the right to vote for everyone who is eligible in New Mexico. This protection includes barring intimidation, violence and threats to the great public servants who make sacrifices every election to ensure that ballots are cast safely and counted accurately.”

HB 4, dubbed the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, was sponsored by Reps. Javier Martinez, Gail Chasey, D. Wonda Johnson, Raymundo Lara and Sen. Katy Duhigg. SB 180 was sponsored by Sen. Katy Duhigg, Sen. Leo Jaramillo and Rep. Gail Chasey. SB 43 was sponsored by Sen. Katy Duhigg.

Common Cause is greatly disappointed that the legislature did not advance two important constitutional amendments—HJR 2 and HJR 8.  The constitutional amendments would have allowed the voters to decide on whether they wanted to change provisions of the 1912 constitution to allow legislators to be paid and to extend the length of legislative sessions.

New Mexico currently has the only unpaid legislature in the country and—with 30-day sessions in even numbered years and 60-day sessions in odd—has the third shortest number of days in session. For the past year, a group of House members, good government advocates, activists, environmentalists and academics had advocated modernization measures to diversify membership, increase capacity and allow NM to compete with other states, where the legislative process has been modernized.

“Change is hard for incumbents, steeped in the system, even as it becomes difficult to endure late-night sessions, an almost year-round workload and the constant need for constituent service,” said Graham. “Yet, we are heartened that the groundwork has been laid for action in future sessions and want to work with legislators and advocates during the upcoming interim to iron out the details of pensions and other items that emerged during the debate on compensation. Both the public and legislators themselves deserve better.”

Graham said that the $2.5 million appropriation in HB 1 to study staffing patterns was a bright spot in this area that will suggest a way forward when it comes to helping legislators with policy research and constituent service. “We need to cut down our reliance on lobbyists,” he said.

Common Cause thanks sponsors Reps. Angelica Rubio, Joy Garratt, Andrea Romero, Susan Herrera, Natalie Figueroa, Debbie Sarinana, Marian Matthews, Linda Serrato, Kristina Ortez and Meredith Dixon.

Common Cause is a nonpartisan grassroots organization dedicated to upholding the core values of American democracy. We work to create open, honest, and accountable government that serves the public interest; promote equal rights, opportunity, and representation for all; and empower all people to make their voices heard as equals in the political process.