The New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division will now have to abide by a federal law and provide voter registration to people who apply for or renew state licenses.
Steven Rosenfeld, a consultant with Project Vote, said this will encourage more people to turn out for local and national elections.
“We know that anytime something is easier to do, more people will do it,” Rosenfeld said. “A settlement like this with the MVD creates another pathway to civic participation.”
The settlement reached July 1 is in response to a suit brought against the New Mexico MVD and public assistance agencies for failing to comply with the National Voter Registration Act, which requires these institutions to offer voter registration for those eligible.
It requires that two state coordinators will ensure that New Mexico MVD and Taxation and Revenue Department offices comply with the NVRA. It also requires MVD offices to post notifications advising the public that voter registration is offered and that the MVD’s website and computer systems are updated in accordance with the law.
Nationally, 30 percent of voters register at MVD offices, Rosenfeld said. In New Mexico, from 2007 to 2008, 182,071 people registered to vote, but only 2,765 registered at MVD offices, making the New Mexico average 1.5 percent.
Several organizations filed the suit, including Project Vote, Demos and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. According to a press release, the suit was also leveled against other public assistance agencies, such as food stamp dispensaries, but only the MVD and the TRD are affected by the settlement.
The NVRA, more commonly known as the “motor voter act,” was signed into law in 1993. Rosenfeld said the bill, “the last major civil rights act of the 20th century,” has increased voter registration and turnout in complying states.
“If this law was implemented (in New Mexico), you would have tens of thousands more people who would be able to vote,” Rosenfeld said. “We want to make sure there aren’t barriers. And that makes government and society more accountable.”
Rosenfeld said that if the MVD and other state agencies offer registration, voter rolls will be correct and current.
Celia Valdez, an NMSU student and one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said she got involved because she had problems registering, and she views easy voter registration as essential to the democratic process.
“I really wanted to help make that change,” Valdez said. “It’s important because we each have a voice, and I know my voice counts. We are the ones in charge and they are the ones following what we want,” she said. “For a system that relies on its voters, there’s a lot of misunderstanding about the process.”
UNM student Aron Kruchoski said he has a driver’s license and though he is eligible, he was not asked if he would like to register at the MVD office. He has no voter registration card.
“I would have registered if it was offered,” Kruchoski said. “I would have voted.”