Republicans try but fail to hijack measure for voter ID requirement
The chaos of Election Night in the border town of Chaparral led the state House of Representatives to approve a reform bill Monday night.
The measure requires establishment of an early voting site for a population center of more than 1,500 people, provided that it is more than 50 miles from its county’s nearest site to cast early ballots.
It carried 38-31 along party lines. Democrats supported the bill as a means of making it more convenient for people to vote. Republicans such as Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo opposed the measure on grounds that it would create more expenses for county governments.
Rep. Nate Cote, right, D-Organ, sponsored the bill because of Chaparral’s horror story on election night.
Unincorporated Chaparral, with a population of about 15,000, is split between Dona Ana and Otero counties. Those on the Otero side were at least 80 miles from the early voting center in the county seat of Alamogordo, Cote said.
This led to long lines on Election Night last November. As the numbers of voters in Chaparral swelled, the election judge called the sheriff, alleging those waiting to vote were unruly.
Nonpartisan volunteers said the charge was false. They said deputies put up yellow crime scene tape around the polling place and threatened to arrest them for providing water and chairs to voters enduring hours-long waits.
The last person in line in Chaparral finally voted at 10:45 p.m.
Cote said his bill also would help other isolated communities, notably in Catron County.
Debate among House members lasted about two hours, mostly because Rep. Paul Bandy tried to replace Cote’s bill with one to require government-issued identification to vote.
Bandy, R-Aztec, said Albuquerque for seven years has had a voter ID law for city elections, and it had worked without complaint. He offered a substitute bill to require voter IDs for state elections.
Rep. Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said Bandy’s attempt to hijack Cote’s bill would have made it more difficult and more expensive for older people, low-income people and rural residents to vote.
Egolf said even the Justice Department of former President George W. Bush found that voter fraud was almost nonexistent, yet Republicans in the state House were trying to create an expensive and unfair voting system.
Fellow Democrats suggested that a de facto poll tax would be imposed by creating extra costs for qualified voters to obtain necessary identification to meet requirements of Bandy’s bill.
Democrats united to defeat Bandy’s proposal, 38-31.
Cote’s proposal to help Chaparral and other places, House Bill 524, next goes to the state Senate for consideration.