Voter ID debate in New Mexico takes high-tech turn

AP News
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Posted: Jan 23, 2015 5:20 PM

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The push to require New Mexico voters to present some form of identification at the polls has long divided Democrats and Republicans, but one state senator is taking the debate in another direction.

Senate Minority Whip William Payne introduced a proposal this week that calls for the state's top elections officials to study the feasibility of bringing biometrics into the mix.

That could mean anything from retinal scans to the thumbprint-imaging technology used to access smartphones.

After hearing the same debate year after year, the Albuquerque Republican said he wanted to find a way to take some of the "venom" out of the argument that requiring photo identification would lead to voter suppression.

"This could put to rest the criticism that voters cannot afford to produce reliable photo identification when they vote," Payne said. "Everyone has an eyeball or thumb that could be scanned for identification. No need to produce a photo ID."

While other countries have adopted biometrics for identification purposes, the idea has yet to take off in the U.S. Oklahoma was the first state last year to propose legislation that would require future voter ID cards to include photos as well as fingerprint images, but that measure stalled in committee.

Nearly three dozen states already have some form of voter ID requirements. But out of the hundreds of election-related pieces of legislation introduced in statehouses across the country so far this year, New Mexico is the only one considering any type of biometric voter ID measure.

"Voter ID is a perennial question," said Wendy Underhill with the National Conference of State Legislatures. "The idea about working with biometrics is a relatively new idea."

Payne hopes his proposal can quell concerns of voter suppression while addressing the potential for fraud at the polls.

Holding up his new smartphone, the lawmaker said: "We're not talking cutting-edge, next generation stuff. This is already commercially applicable, and it has nothing to do with the technical literacy of the person. It has to do with the county clerks buying the right equipment, having it in place and certifying that it's working."

While voter ID efforts have had a difficult time getting through the Legislature, Payne's memorial is gaining bipartisan support.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, a former state elections director, said the problem with most voter ID bills has been the discrepancy in the treatment of people who vote by mail and those who show up at the polls. The Albuquerque Democrat said using biometrics has the potential to provide security for both.

"The issue becomes the feasibility of moving in this direction. Sen. Payne's memorial seeks to evaluate that feasibility," Ivey-Soto said.

The New Mexico secretary of state's office said that if the measure were to pass, the office would be happy to study the issue. Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran won re-election in the heavily Democratic state after running on a platform that included support for voter ID.

Payne said the ultimate goal is ensuring the integrity of the election process.

New Mexico has had its share of close races. Payne's first primary in 1996 was settled by a coin toss following several recounts and a tie.

"That's why I'm the poster boy for every vote counts," he said.