SANTA FE, N.M. — In a ruling that could have implications for government agencies and private businesses, New Mexico’s state workers will get paid while taking time off to vote in any election.
A Santa Fe judge issued a decision Wednesday in response to a lawsuit filed by two state workers last month.
The plaintiffs were disputing a policy of paid administrative leave for voting that did not extend to local races, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported . The workers argued that they would effectively lose pay or vacation time for going to vote in municipal elections.
Judge David Thomson found that state government workers must be allowed to claim leave while voting, even at the local level.
Attorneys for the State Personnel Office argued the law does not explicitly require employers pay workers while they are voting.
“A penalty is much different than not being paid for time not worked,” the office wrote in one case filing.
But Thomson said having to use benefits such as vacation time to vote is a penalty that would be prohibited under law.
The state has not said whether it plans to appeal the ruling.
Supporters of workers’ rights applauded the ruling.
“The decision supports this fundamental right encouraging people to participate in democracy,” said Shane Youtz, a lawyer for two workers unions.
According to current state law, a voter “shall not be liable to any penalty” for taking up to two hours off to vote on an election day. However, the statute does not apply if the employee’s workday begins more than two hours after the polls open or ends three hours before the polls close.
In 2014, the State Personnel Office revised its policy on leave for voting in local elections. Officials said there was no way to verify if staffers actually voted and at times abused the policy.
An audit conducted by the office after the 2014 election found that more than 240 state government employees across 50 agencies claimed administrative leave but never cast a ballot. At least 40 were not even registered voters.
The Secretary of State’s Office does not keep records on participation for municipal races.
Information from: The Santa Fe New Mexican, http://www.sfnewmexican.com