Voting Rights Groups Sue States for Failing to Register Low-Income Residents

Cross-posted at Project Vote's Voting Matters Blog

By Erin Ferns

Enfranchising America's least represented citizens is as simple as following the law: that's the message Project Vote and a coalition of voting rights groups sent today as they filed lawsuits against Indiana and New Mexico for failing to comply with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA).

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Democrat Diane Denish Looks Strong in NM-Gov

Take as look at these impressive numbers, per a release from the Democratic Governors Association:

New Mexico Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish is leading both potential Republican opponents by a commanding margin, according to statewide polling released today by the Democratic Governors Association.

In head-to-head matchups, Denish is leading both Steve Pearce and Heather Wilson by 22 points, with 57 percent of voters supporting Denish and 35 percent the Republican.

There was a time at which New Mexico looked like a genuine swing state. Indeed, back in 2000, Al Gore carried the state by just 366 votes. But in 2008, Barack Obama carried the state by 15 percentage points in an election that also saw the Democrats picking up a Senate seat (by more than a 20 percentage point margin!) and two House seats, suggesting the state may not be as balanced as we once thought it was. These numbers showing the state's Democratic Lieutenant Governor simply thumping two potential top-notch Republican competitors only back up this sentiment.

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Wrongful Convictions Are Still Possible in New Mexico

This week, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed legislation repealing the death penalty, replacing it with life in prison without the possibility of parole. Governor Richardson based his decision on a lack of "confidence in the criminal justice system as it currently operates" and the very real possibility of wrongfully convicting and executing an innocent person. By repealing the death penalty, Governor Richardson's action this week eliminates the risk of New Mexico ever executing an innocent person. Governor Richardson should be commended for taking this action.

The question now is whether Governor Richardson will take the necessary steps to eliminate the causes that lead to wrongful convictions. While I agree that life without parole gives New Mexico the opportunity to correct mistakes when wrongful convictions occur, I am concerned about the very real risk that innocent people will be wrongfully convicted and now sentenced to life without parole in New Mexico.

I commend Governor Richardson for his recognition that New Mexico's criminal justice system is "inherently defective." The Governor recognizes the systemic problems that have led to wrongful convictions in New Mexico stating, "[e]vidence, including DNA evidence, can be manipulated. Prosecutors can still abuse their powers. We cannot ensure competent defense counsel for all defendants." Repealing the death penalty can prevent these systemic problems from leading to the execution of an innocent person. The next step is to prevent these errors from happening and sending an innocent person to prison.

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Several States Debating Election Day Registration to Expand Access to the Polls

Cross-Posted at Project Vote's Voting Matter's Blog

Weekly Voting Rights News Update

by Erin Ferns

Election Day Registration has been the subject of election reform debates for decades and the year following one of the most historic presidential elections makes no exception. As lawmakers in at least 16 states hope to expand access to voter registration and effectively increase voter participation, skeptics of such reforms raise the fear of voter fraud. Today, 10 states successfully practice Same-Day Registration (either on Election Day or during an early voting period), with above-average turnout rates and no reported problems with voter fraud. For those states considering EDR, the decision to efficiently expand access to democracy should be clear.

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Bill Richardson withdraws as Commerce Secretary-designate

Breaking, from NBC News:

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, tapped in December by President-elect Barack Obama to serve as secretary of Commerce, has withdrawn his name for the position, citing a pending investigation into a company that has done business with his state.

"Let me say unequivocally that I and my Administration have acted properly in all matters and that this investigation will bear out that fact," he said Sunday in a report by NBC News' Andrea Mitchell. "But I have concluded that the ongoing investigation also would have forced an untenable delay in the confirmation process."

He said he plans to continue in his role as governor. "I appreciate the confidence President-elect Obama has shown in me, and value our friendship and working partnership. I told him that I am eager to serve in the future in any way he deems useful. And like all Americans, I pray for his success and the success of our beloved country."

So much for no drama.

Update [2009-1-4 14:57:45 by Todd Beeton]:President-elect Obama's statement (via e-mail):

It is with deep regret that I accept Governor Bill Richardson's decision to withdraw his name for nomination as the next Secretary of Commerce.Governor Richardson is an outstanding public servant and would have brought to the job of Commerce Secretary and our economic team great insights accumulated through an extraordinary career in federal and state office. It is a measure of his willingness to put the nation first that he has removed himself as a candidate for the Cabinet in order to avoid any delay in filling this important economic post at this critical time. Although we must move quickly to fill the void left by Governor Richardson's decision, I look forward to his future service to our country and in my administration.

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