By Matthew Reichbach
Despite no provable cases of voter fraud in recent New Mexico electoral history, Secretary of State Dianna Duran is turning over 64,000 cases of what her office calls potential voter fraud to the State Department of Public Safety.
Experts, however, say there are more likely explanations. The experts the numbers are likely due to a “list management problem” or clerical errors.
People frequently use different variations of their first names, she (Santa Fe County chief deputy county clerk and former state elections director, Denise Lamb) said, such as “Tom” instead of “Thomas” or “Patty” instead of “Patricia.” People aren’t always quick to report changes of addresses to the MVD, Lamb said. Frequently people mistakenly transpose numbers in addresses or Social Security numbers, she said.
But perhaps the most common problem: “County clerks face the decline in legible handwriting,” Lamb said. All voter-registration forms are filled out by hand, Lamb said. “I’m surprised we get as much right as we do.”
University of New Mexico professor Lonna Atkenson wondered why Duran turned the information over to the State Department of Public Safety instead of to individual county clerks to identify the problems.
One reason may be that Duran has made it one of her main goals to prove voter fraud. During the 2011 legislative session, Duran testified that 37 foreign nationals illegally voted in elections out of 117 who had illegally registered. Duran was speaking during a hearing on voter ID, a topic that Republicans have favored in recent legislative sessions but has yet to gain any traction in the state legislature.
However, Duran refused to release documents pertaining to the claims to the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and a number of media outlets that requested the information using the Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA).
ACLU-NM director Peter Simonson told Clearly New Mexico that the documents were so heavily redacted as to be essentially useless.
“The redactions were so heavy that they don’t allow us to make any determination,” Simonson said. “The Secretary of State said she redacted the information we requested based on two issues: one, executive privilege; and two, driver privacy protection laws.”
Heath Haussamen of NMPolitics.net outlined similar problems and wrote in a commentary piece, “I’ve identified several potential IPRA violations stemming from her office’s dealings with me.” These included saying that the documents were part of an active investigation and so could not be turned over for Haussamen’s IPRA request.
Santa Fe New Mexican political reporter Steve Terrell wrote about not receiving any documents as well. The Secretary of State’s office used similar, if not identical excuses, as it did when rejecting Haussamen’s IPRA request.
Duran’s news came the same day that an opinion piece in Politico by constitutional law and election law professor at Loyola Law School outlined “the real victims” of voted ID laws.
The facts, however, say different. Most of these recent laws demand current, government-issued photo ID with an expiration date. Yet 11 percent of voting-age citizens do not have this sort of ID, according to reliable studies. The estimated impact on actual voters ranges from 1 percent to 12 percent, depending on the state. Even using the most conservative figure, this amounts to more than 1.6 million voters nationwide.
Some are hurt more than others by this. Roughly 18 percent of seniors don’t have the right ID. Only 5 percent of Anglo voters but at least 10 percent of African-American voters and 11 percent of Latino voters don’t have the right ID.
Previous investigations into widespread voter fraud have come up empty with incidents being few and far between in the state.
In 2009, Lamb helped catch one case of a realtor attempting to get an absentee ballot for her deceased brother. The same year an unrelated case involved a former judge from El Paso attempting to declare himself a resident of Sunland Park so he could run for a position as a judge there.
Gov. Susana Martinez campaigned on something that she called voter fraud but which could be more accurately described as a case of incompetence by a county clerk rather than any attempt at voter fraud.
“In all the years I have been doing this, I have never caught somebody trying to vote for a deceased person. It’s a terrible joke people make, but it doesn’t really happen,” Lamb told the New Mexican at the time. “In this case, we caught the attempt on the day it happened.”