SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – As lawmakers gathered in Santa Fe for the start of the 2023 New Mexico Legislative Session, a group of advocates asked for support in expanding New Mexico’s voting rights. In particular, with a news conference at the Roundhouse, they called for the restoration of felons’ voting rights.

“Most people don’t realize the magnitude of essentially being wiped off the face of the earth. You are completely removed from society and stripped of all rights only to return and find out that you have no credit, no one can hire you after lengthy background checks, and you are absent from the ability to have a voice. More specifically voting,” said Adam Griego, a member of the New Mexico nonprofit, OLÉ, who spoke about the experience of being disenfranchised.

“Our inability to engage civically increases our chances of returning to prison,” Griego added. And Griego called it a “prime example of taxation without representation.”

In New Mexico, state law prohibits convicted felons from voting in any statewide, municipal, county, or district election while in prison, on parole, or during probation. That means New Mexico joins 15 other states that generally deny voting rights for felons serving time, according to a count by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit advocacy group.

In New Mexico, felons can have their rights restored after they complete their sentence. But for some advocates, that’s not soon enough. Nicole Porter, the senior director of advocacy at The Sentencing Project, presented data suggesting that there are around 17,000 people in New Mexico finishing up their sentences who are unable to vote.

“While these are residents who are supervised in the community on probation or parole or incarcerated in prison or jail for a felony conviction, the more than 17,000 are also community members, family members, church members, and so much more,” Porter said.

“New Mexico should join Maine, Vermont, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. in ensuring all of their citizens can participate in our democratic process,” Porter said. “New Mexico should advance racial justice by re-enfranchising its entire voting age population.”

Data from The Sentencing Project shows that Maine, Vermont, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico allow felons still serving time to vote. In total, 22 states, including California and Colorado, limit voting rights only to those still in prison (not probation and parole). Eleven states, including Arizona and Mississippi, deny voting rights even for those who have completed their sentences, according to The Sentencing Project.

In 2021, Rep. Gail Chasey (D-Abq.) sponsored a bill to allow New Mexico’s felons to register to vote as soon as they were put into parole or probation. That bill was amended several times before it died in a committee. So far, such a bill hasn’t been pre-filed for this year’s session.