After a heated debate, the House Voters and Election Committee postponed a vote that will determine if New Mexicans should be required to show photo identification at voting polls on Election Day.

House Bill 308, sponsored by Rep. Dianne Hamilton (R-Silver City), is supported by the governor and the Secretary of the State’s office, which oversees state-wide elections. However, the bill received criticism from County Clerk’s offices.

Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a newly elected Republican, said identification at polls is crucial.

“We need to have voter ID implemented before going into 2012 elections in order to assure that every person who appears at that polling place is the person they say they are,” she said.
Some county clerks, who administer elections in the state’s 33 counties, said the bill would apply only to ballots cast at polling locations and not mail-in ballots.

Santa Fe chief deputy clerk Denise Lamb said mail-in or absentee ballots have a greater risk of potential abuse.

“No one knows if someone is assisting them with that ballot,” she said. “No one knows if someone is coercing them or bribing them, unlike at the polling places. We cannot create two classes of voters.”

The House Voters and Election Committee will vote on the measure Thursday. Its recommendations will help lawmakers determine whether to support the measure.

During her State of the State speech on Jan. 18, Gov. Susana Martinez said requiring a photo ID at the polls was one of her legislative priorities.

“People have to show a photo ID to rent a movie,” she said. “It’s not too much to ask to show a photo ID to vote.”

Eight states require voters to show photo identification, according to the Associated Press. Nineteen states require identification, but not a photo, to vote.

If passed, HB 308 would require New Mexican voters to provide a state or federally issued photo identification card. Native Americans would be exempt from the law because they can show tribally issued identification cards, which are issued without a photo.

Steve Allen, executive director of Common Cause, a political nonprofit, said the law would not improve the state’s elections.
“Quite the contrary, it would cost a lot of money and disenfranchise a bunch of qualified voters in the process,” he said. “This state has enough real problems. This bill creates new ones while trying to solve an imaginary one.”

Measure supporters, including branches from the state’s Tea Party, said the law would help prevent voter fraud.

Robert Mitzel, who spoke on behalf of the Chaves County Tea Party Patriots, mirrored the governor’s statement.

“If it’s important enough that I present an ID to rent a movie, it should be important enough to present an ID to vote,” he said.
Lamb rebutted the claim and said the bill could incite costly lawsuits against the state if it passes.

“A privilege granted by a business is different than a constitutional right,” she said.