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College Students Back to Class; Registering their Votes Heads to Court

July 28, 2008

Albuquerque, NM - College students will head back to class in the coming weeks, and several voting rights groups are already doing their homework to make it easier for student voices to be heard during elections in New Mexico. Several organizations, including the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP), are challenging parts of a 2005 state law that has created what they consider to be among the harshest voter registration rules in the country.

Jo Ann Gutierrez Bejar, SWOP's communications organizer, says college students are often registered to vote through third-parties, including her group, but the new law has forced them to scale back their registration efforts. The state now requires registration volunteers to undergo training - at sessions she says are held only during times when most people are at work.

"As a result, we've seen a dramatic decrease, from having 50 people register community members, to about three or four."

Last week, SWOP joined three other, nonpartisan groups to challenge the voter registration law in court. They also take issue with the requirement that voter registration forms be turned in within 48 hours of completion. Tardiness can result in large fines, and even jail time.

Gutierrez Bejar argues that the law has been a step backward in encouraging people to vote. During what she sees as a critical election year, she feels government should be working to make it easier to cast a ballot.

"We should be doing everything possible to make sure that every eligible citizen gets to vote. Unfortunately, these laws work completely against our democracy."

Defenders of the 2005 law say it was passed in response to problems with previous elections, such as a 2004 incident in which some voter registration forms were stolen.

Eric Mack/Steve Powers, Public News Service - NM