New Mexico State Supreme Court Poised to Hear Case Affecting the Many Thousands of New Mexicans Who Are at Risk of Being Denied the Right to Vote

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SANTA FE –  On Wednesday, September 14, 2016, at 9 am, the New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that will determine whether many thousands of New Mexicans will be at risk of being denied the right to vote:  one of the most fundamental and meaningful rights that Americans possess. 

The case, League of Women Voters of New Mexico v. Advisory Committee to the New Mexico Compilation Commission, presents the Court with the issue that the “Advisory Committee to the New Mexico Compilation Commission should not be placed in the position of deciding for itself how to reconcile sections of the New Mexico Constitution, nor determining what rights are being expanded or restricted, though it has unwittingly been placed in that position.”

The Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico office, which filed a friend of the court brief in support of the League of Women Voters, favors eliminating improper and unnecessary hurdles to the recognition of voting rights and considers the case an important benchmark in the struggle to restore the voting rights of persons who have been convicted of felonies after those persons have served their sentences. The Supreme Court has given the Drug Policy Alliance’s counsel, Kate Ferlic, time on Wednesday to argue our position.

The New Mexico State Constitution is notable for its long history of protecting the rights of voters generally and minority voters, in particular.  The League of Women Voters case asks the Court to honor both the Constitution and the intent of the state’s citizens who have amended the Constitution over the years, to allow the electorate, by simple majority vote, to expand the voting rights of New Mexicans previously denied the vote for reasons that have been long discredited.

Emily Kaltenbach, Drug Policy Alliance’s New Mexico Director states that “not only is depriving a person who has served their sentence of the right to vote un-American, it is counterproductive. There is clear evidence that exercising the right to vote is an important part of rehabilitation:  voting reduces criminal recidivism, enhances responsible citizenship, and builds a sense of belonging in the community.”   By contrast, being denied the vote, notes Kaltenbach, “is a form of civil death that has widespread and devastating consequences that hurts individuals, families and entire communities.”

As the Drug Policy Alliance’s brief to the Court explains, nationwide, nearly 6 million Americans, or 2.5% of the U.S. voting age population, are denied the right to vote under state felony disenfranchisement laws.  Across the country such laws disproportionately affect minorities, meaning that persons of color are more likely to be silenced at the ballot box than their white counterparts.  The failed War on Drugs, which historically has targeted communities of color and poor people in the enforcement of drug laws, is a primary cause for the huge numbers of adult Americans who cannot vote, including many thousands of New Mexicans.

The Drug Policy Alliance is urging the Court to read the state constitution in a manner that honors the importance of the right to vote, recognizes the substantial harms caused when this right is withheld from citizens, and gives the electorate an ability to expand voting rights, through a simple majority vote, to New Mexicans who are wrongfully deprived of this fundamental right.  

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is the nation’s leading organization of people who believe the war on drugs is doing more harm than good. DPA fights for drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights.

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Date Published: September 12, 2016
Published by Drug Policy Alliance

Drug Policy Alliance

by Brandon