Voter ID scuffle coming to a head
Albuquerque Tribune Online
SANTA FE - For years, voter identification has been a back-burner issue in New Mexico, a Republican favorite killed by majority Democrats in Capitol committee rooms.
Its advance to the front burner comes in a red-hot election year.
President Bush and John Kerry are locked in a tight race in a state haunted by a number: 366, the number of votes by which Bush lost New Mexico in the last election.
This year, Democrats and Republicans are determined to leave no voter - none of their own voters, anyway - behind.
The voter ID dispute to be heard by the state Supreme Court today stems from conflicting interpretations of a 2003 state law requiring some first-time voters to show identification at the polls.
At the core of the fight is the thousands of New Mexicans who have registered during voter drives at grocery stores, coffee shops, gas stations and malls.
Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, a Democrat and the state's top elections official, says the 2003 law does not require those first-time voters to show ID at the polls.
Chaves County Clerk David Kunko and state District Judge Charles Currier - both Republicans - disagree with her.
The statute says first-time registrants must provide ID, whether voting at the polls or absentee, if their voter registration forms are "not submitted in person by the applicant."
Kunko claims that means "in person" at the county clerk's office. A first-time voter who registers anywhere else - even at a motor vehicle or welfare office - would have to show ID in order to vote, under his interpretation. Currier concurred.
Vigil-Giron says that's misreading the law. "In person" means anyone not registering by mail, she says - including those who register in front of a person at a mall.
Kunko's interpretation, she argues, conflicts with another section of law, to the effect that voters who showed up at the polls would face stricter ID requirements than those who voted absentee.
There are other legal issues, too: whether the county clerk is obliged to comply with the secretary of state's directive, for example, and whether the Chaves County ruling was flawed because the secretary of state wasn't made part of the case.
Kunko says the law is clear and Vigil-Giron's interpretation is "just wrong," so he doesn't have to follow it.
The voter ID laws, he says, "were enacted to combat election fraud and to protect the integrity of the electoral process."