The New Mexico state Senate, led by Democrats, has endorsed a bill aimed at prohibiting firearms at polling places and near ballot drop boxes. This measure, designed to address concerns about intimidation and the safety of poll workers in anticipation of the 2024 election, secured Senate approval with a 26-16 vote.
The bill is now headed to the state House for consideration. Notably, all Republicans and one Democrat opposed it. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, expressing support, is expected to include the bill on the agenda for a 30-day legislative session.
A similar ban on guns at voting locations is already in place in a dozen states, including Florida, Georgia, and Arizona. The issue of the intersection between voting and firearms has become a focal point in several states, particularly against the backdrop of a politically charged climate.
In the 2020 presidential election, armed protesters gathered nightly outside vote-counting offices, underscoring the need for addressing such concerns.
The bill that forbids open and concealed carry of firearms within 100 feet of a polling place’s entrance was co-sponsored by Democratic state Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth of Santa Fe.
“Given where we are as a country with elections, having guns (kept) out of polling places in my opinion — and I respect that there’s a difference of opinion on this — but I think it makes a lot of sense,” Wirth said.
Republican senators in the legislative minority emphasized their opposition, suggesting amendments that aimed to exempt rural counties or concealed gun permit holders from the gun ban at polling places. In 2022, Colorado prohibited the open carry of firearms at polls, though concealed weapons remained allowed.
State Sen. Gregg Schmedes of Tijeras, a conservative stronghold with a robust gun ownership culture, argued that the bill would unfairly disenfranchise Republican gun owners who are genuinely concerned about entering gun-free zones.
Currently, guns are already prohibited at New Mexico schools serving as Election Day voting sites and extensive Native American tribal lands.
The proposed bill seeks to extend similar restrictions to various polling locations on Election Day and during weeks of in-person voting, encompassing storefront voting centers to places of worship. Additionally, guns would be prohibited within 50 feet of drop boxes for absentee balloting during voting periods.
Violating the proposed gun restrictions would be considered a petty misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in a county jail, a $500 fine, or both.
A comparable bill gained Senate approval last year but stalled without a House floor vote. The new version includes exceptions and some flexibility for individuals to leave guns in a personal vehicle while voting, particularly around shopping mall voting centers where individuals might incidentally carry a gun while running errands.
A 2022 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, known as the Bruen decision, has led to significant changes in firearms restrictions nationwide. Activists are engaging in court battles over issues ranging from bans on AR-15-style rifles to restrictions in designated “sensitive” locations.
“Polling places are one of the lanes within the Bruen decision, where Justice Clarence Thomas clearly said there is a historical precedent for a state stepping in to regulate firearms,” Wirth stated.
While on the Senate floor, Wirth stated that the bill addresses concerns from political constituents who worked at polling places in 2022. These individuals felt intimidated by those who brought guns, even though no criminal statutes against intimidation at polling places were violated.