from the NEW MEXICO NEWS CONNECTION - A statewide news service for New Mexico
Albuquerque - A handful of community groups are challenging parts of New Mexico's voter registration law in a season when registration efforts are just getting ready to hit college campuses. College students will head back to class in the coming weeks, and several voting rights groups are doing some homework to make it easier for student voices to be heard during elections in New Mexico. Jo Ann Gutierrez Bejar, communications organizer, is with the Southwest Organizing Project, one of the groups behind a new legal challenge to parts of a 2005 state law that include what she calls some of the harshest voter registration rules in the country. SWOP and three other non-partisan groups challenged parts of the voter registration law in court last week. Defenders of the law say it was a response to problems with previous elections, like when some voter registration forms were stolen in 2004.
College students are often registered through third-parties like SWOP, but Gutierrez Bejar says the new rule forced them to scale back their efforts to get students and other community members registered, "So, now we've seen a decrease from having 50 people register community members to about three or four." She says that's partly because the state requires registration volunteers to undergo a training session that is only held during times when most people are at work. Gutierrez Bejar says the state law was a step backwards in encouraging people to vote, and during such a critical election year, government should be working to make it easier to cast a ballot, "We should be doing everything possible to make sure that every citizen who is eligible to vote gets to vote. These laws unfortunately work completely against our democracy." Another potnetially punitive part of the law requires voter registration forms be turned in within 48 hours; tardiness can mean big fines or even jail time. For more information contact the Southwest ORganizing Project at