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New Mexico Senate seeks new protections for election workers

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver speaks in 2018 during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. During the tumultuous period immediately after the November 2020 presidential election, election workers across the country faced harassment and threats. Since then, legislators in a small but growing number of states have proposed measures to help protect those workers by creating or boosting penalties for such threats or assaults. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press file)

SANTA FE – A bill that seeks greater protections for election officials and volunteers amid growing concerns for their safety in New Mexico won unanimous state Senate approval Monday.

New Mexico is among a handful of states seeking greater protections for election workers after officials were targeted by threats of violence after the 2020 presidential election. Vermont, Illinois, Maine and Washington – all with Democrat-led legislatures – have introduced related bills.

The New Mexico Senate voted 38-0 in favor of the bill from state Sen. Katy Duhigg, a former Albuquerque city clerk, to expand the felony crime of intimidation to include acts against employees and agents of the secretary of state, county clerks and municipal clerks. The proposal now advances to the House for consideration.

A New Mexico statute enacted in 1953 already offers protection from intimidation to voters and election board members who administer polling places, as well as poll watchers and challengers that visit polling sites and flag concerns for further review.

Widespread threats against those who oversee elections, from secretaries of state to county clerks and even poll workers, soared after former President Donald Trump and his allies spread false claims about the outcome of the presidential election.

Duhigg noted that the U.S. Justice Department launched a task force last year to combat a rise in the intimidation of election workers.

“That’s not enough – it’s important that states take action to protect our elections professionals and volunteers at all levels so that we can sustain our democracy,” Duhigg said Monday on the Senate floor.

She noted that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver was forced into hiding in late 2020 amid threats traced to Iran.

New Mexico’s initiative provides no new spending for law enforcement, though state spending increases are slated for public safety agencies in a proposed state general fund budget for the coming fiscal year that starts on July 1.