The New Mexico Motor Vehicles Division (MVD) has reportedly stopped issuing driver’s licenses or photo identification cards used for voting to so-called “illiterates” who only speak the Navajo language.
In a memo obtained by ProgressNowNM, Bureau Chief Aurora Lopez outlines the policy for MVD employees.
“Agents are not allowed to read the questions on driver’s applications to a customer,” Lopez writes. “They would [need] a letter stating that they have a condition that falls under the [Americans with Disabilities Act] for us to read the questions.”
“Applicants should be able to read the questions on their own since it raises question[s] as to how they obtained their driver’s license.”
Lopez adds: “We are not able to issue license [sic] for illiterates.”
MVD staff confirmed to ProgressNowNM that they were asked to sign a copies of the email to show that they understood the policy change. ProgressNowNM was told that MVD staff could only provide Navajo language-only speakers with assistance in filling out basic information on the application, such as their name and address.
ProgressNowNM Executive Director Patrick Davis called the new policy “shameful and disrespectful to our Navajo and other tribal neighbors.”
“Traditional Navajo speakers are hardly illiterate,” Davis said in a statement. “Their unique language helped to save our country and millions of lives in the service of code talkers during World War II. To tell these people that they have to learn English to obtain the basic identification now needed to vote or apply for a basic license is indefensible.”
USA Today reported earlier this year that motor vehicle offices were also responsible for a large drop in all voter registration throughout New Mexico. A 2010 judgment from the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico forced the state to come into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), but most agreed that officials have failed to do so.
In a column for the Santa Fe New Mexican this week, New Mexico resident Brian Sweeney wrote about how he had been disenfranchised by the poorly run system.
Sweeney said that he registered to vote when he moved to Santa Fe and applied for a driver’s license, but he was never notified that “the secretary of state, Santa Fe County clerk and/or MVD lost my paperwork.”
With electronic and paper registration barriers in place, voter registration has suffered immensely. In New Mexico’s most populous county, Bernalillo County, MVD voter registration is down 90 percent in 2014. In the 10 months since its implementation, that means the Motor Voter system has failed to register 2,230 New Mexicans in Bernalillo County alone.
Sweeney noted that Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran dedicated her term to “rooting out 19 cases of alleged illegal voting, representing a 0.0017 percent rate of fraud if all are convicted.”
“I question whether Duran’s goals truly include minimizing voter disenfranchisement in New Mexico,” he wrote. “After Election Day, we will likely learn how many people have been affected by this avoidable civil rights mugging. When that number indeed comes to light, New Mexico will make national headlines for all the wrong reasons.”