Thousands of New Mexicans may be turned away from polling places next month because the “Motor Voter” program overseen by Secretary of State Dianna Duran fails to complete and submit voter registrations begun at MVDs across the state.
After voting rights groups filed a lawsuit in 2009 against the state for failing to comply with federal voting rights laws, the state entered into a settlement agreement allowing New Mexicans to complete voter registration when they apply for or renew their licenses. The requirement, known as “motor voter,” is a component of the National Voting Rights Act.
The secretary of state was required under the agreement to oversee NVRA compliance, including those processes at DMVs. The agreement is set to expire next month if all requirements, including letting drivers register to vote simultaneously with an application for a license, are met.
An investigation by ProgressNow New Mexico has learned that instead of permitting drivers to register to vote instantaneously when they request a license, voters are left on their own to complete the process at a later time thus violating the USDOJ agreement and state law.
New Mexico State Law (NMSA 1-4-47) lays out how it is supposed to work:
1-4-47. Driver’s license voter registration. (2013)
- Every person who is a qualified elector and is applying for a driver’s license, to renew a driver’s license or for an identification card shall, if qualified to register to vote, with the consent of the applicant be simultaneously registered to vote. (emphasis added)
F. The secretary of state shall work with the motor vehicle division to:
(1) ensure compliance in the application of the provisions of this section with the federal National Voter Registration Act of 1993;
(2) ensure consistent implementation in the various counties, based on county classification and developing technology; and
(3) develop procedures to ensure that, once voter registration information is transmitted to the appropriate registration officer, the voter’s certificate of registration is printed and placed in the county’s register of voters.
Under the old procedure, license applicants were offered a standard paper voter registration application which they signed. State workers then submitted the new voter registration with the driver’s license application. Get a license? Register to vote. The problem was that lots of drivers were never offered the form or the forms never made it to county clerks; hence the lawsuit.
Earlier this year, the process went automated to comply with the agreement and state law. Applicants are supposed to click a button to have their new voter registration record submitted to the county clerk “simultaneously” with their driver’s license record to MVD.
Drivers who opt into “Moter Voter” registration are supposed to be registered and, having done their part, should reasonably expect to show up on election day on June 3 and vote.
Going undercover to check the system
But we sent a staffer undercover to the MVD today to update his driver’s license and voter registration information and we found that the new system does not work that way at all.
After our staffer opted in to registering to vote, it didn’t happen and he asked why. The very nice MVD clerk told us, “We used to do that, but they changed it… you have to go to this website.”
The MVD office doesn’t even appear to comply with state law. MVD offices are supposed to post signs notifying visitors that they can register to vote and some newer offices are supposed to have a kiosk where visitors can apply to vote online.
But when we visited the MVD office in Downtown Albuquerque, we found no voter registration signs and found a blank wall where the kiosk should be.
After some searching, we found the kiosk hidden behind the staff desks in the back corner of a side waiting room.
90% fewer registrations
Clearly the new system, from registration to education, does not meet federal guidelines or follow state law but we wanted to know if new prospective voters were actually following through.
The Bernalillo County Clerk’s office provided us historical data on the number of voter registration applications they received monthly from MVD since November 2012. Under the old paper application system, the Bernalillo County clerk received, on average, 252 new voter registrations per month from MVD. Since the change, they have averaged just 29 per month – a 90% drop-off.
Several county clerks we talked to today had no idea they were not receiving new registration information until we told them. Others told us the secretary of state was aware of this issue as early as April but has done nothing to fix the problem or notify new voter applicants that their applications have not been completed.
The bottom line
Federal and state law both say that voters shall be registered to vote, if they chose, when they apply for or update their driver’s license. Even under the old unreliable paper system, some new voters were being processed. But the low numbers then and failures by the secretary of state to fix the problem led to a federal lawsuit and US DOJ oversight.
Now the “fix,” is worse than the problem. It blatantly does not follow state or federal law and Secretary of State Dianna Duran has done nothing to notify new voter applicants that their request to register to vote has not been honored.
Drivers and voters who did their part by following the law and opting into voter registration have been bamboozled and are likely to show up to vote on June 3 and be turned away.
If you registered to vote, or updated your voter registration at MVD, contact Secretary of State Dianna Duran to verify your voter registration. Contact her here.