What’s wrong with this picture? Voters waiting in line for hours to vote in Chaparral and Rio Rancho. Hard-to-update, inaccurate paper-based voter registration systems. It’s little wonder that New Mexico’s voter participation rate is so disappointing. Our elections should be free, fair and accessible to all New Mexicans.
Three voter ID bills failed in the House Consumer and Public Affairs Committee on Tuesday on party-line votes.
The Democrats on the committee voted to table the three bills that would have required voters show photo identification, siding with the majority of the crowd at the hearing who said the bill would disenfranchise young, elderly, minority and disabled voters as well as costing significantly more than the Fiscal Impact Report predicted.
The three pieces of legislation, all sponsored by Republicans, were tabled after a lengthy hearing process that included over half an hour of public comment.
The bill sponsored by Rep. Dianne Hamilton (R-Silver City) would have allowed voters to use the last four numbers of their Social Security Number to prove their identity at the polls. The version of ID legislation sponsored by Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad) would require a government-issued photo ID to vote in person and, to cast an absentee ballot, a copy of the photo ID would be required.
The bill sponsored by Rep. James Smith (R-Sandia Park) was the result of work during the interim by county clerks and Smith. A complex bill, it was one that the county clerks would prefer to the other voter ID approaches, according to the county clerks association lobbyist Daniel Ivey-Soto.
Opponents rallied against the bills
An array of organizations, ranging from the League of Women Voters to Disability Rights New Mexico to the Native American Voters Alliance, opposed the legislation on the grounds that it would disenfranchise voters and would do little to solve purported voter fraud.
The majority of the crowd present in the committee room were in opposition.
Rep. Moe Maestas (D-Albuquerque) said he didn’t believe that voter fraud was a problem in the state, comparing it to the “bogeyman.”
“If my constituents want me to introduce legislation to outlaw the bogeyman, I can introduce legislation to outlaw the bogeyman, or I can gently explain to them that the bogeyman does not exist,” Maestas said to laughter from the crowd.
Committee chair Gail Chasey (D-Albuquerque) opposed the bills and singled out Smith’s bill as overly complicating the absentee ballot, saying, “I find the absentee ballot daunting as it is.”
And Rep. Bill O’Neill (D-Albuquerque) said he the claims of voter fraud all seemed to be based on anecdotes rather than any real evidence.
The Tea Party has been a force in politics, especially among conservatives, since it gained prominence in 2009. The New Mexico groups gathered for their third rally at the Roundhouse on Tuesday — but this time, the Tea Party had company.
Occupy groups from around the state gathered on the east side of the Roundhouse — and outnumbered the Tea Party protesters on the opposite side of the Roundhouse.
The two rallies had similarities — crowds of New Mexicans holding signs and cheering on speeches from speakers. But the similarities were superficial.
The Occupy crowd was filled with signs calling for the end of corporate involvement in campaigns and signs in Spanish opposing Martinez’s proposal to repeal drivers license for undocumented immigrants. The Tea Party signs were in support of the drivers license repeal and called for mandatory voter identification at the polls.
What the crowed responded to was different as well. The largest applause line at the Tea Party rally was when Lt. Gov. John Sanchez said, “The first thing we need to do is elect a new President.” At the Occupy rally, a large cheer went up when state Sen. Eric Griego said, “money isn’t speech — we need corporations out.”
Griego also signed the 99 Pledge in front of the crowd.
The Democratic state Senator, who is running for Congress in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District, said he would support a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizen’s United, the controversial Supreme Court decision that allows corporations to contribute unlimited amounts of money in support or opposition to a political candidate.
At the Tea Party rally, Marita K. Noon, head of the energy group CARE, railed against the possible listing of the Sand Dune Lizard as an endangered species. Opposition to the listing of the lizard has become cause célèbre for conservatives, especially Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM).
The Occupy group ultimately received more media attention for an attempted — though unsuccessful — “mic check” of Martinez at the beginning of her State of the State address. The Occupy protesters involved were quickly ushered out of the room.
Odds and Ends
The two candidates with major presences at the Tea Party rally were Rick Newton, a Republican running for Congress in New Mexico’s 3rd Congressional District, and Greg Sowards, running for U.S. Senate.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced Tuesday that the Department of Justice is reviewing some new laws that could restrict the voting rights of citizens.
The Associated Press reported that the DOJ is investigating the voter identification laws in South Carolina and Texas as well as changes made in Florida which makes it harder for groups such as the League of Women Voters to register voters.
“We will examine the facts, and we will apply the law,” Holder said in a speech at the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library and Museum in Austin. “If a state passes a new voting law and meets its burden of showing that the law is not discriminatory, we will follow the law and approve the change. And where a state can’t meet this burden, we will object as part of our obligation under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.”
Another focus could be reductions in early voting dates in some states.
In addition to South Carolina and Texas, six other states have passed more restrictive voter ID laws which some say will impede some — mostly poor, minorities and the elderly — from voting.
The Brennan Center for Justice found that voter ID laws are not only expensive for citizens but also expensive to state governments. Moreover, it found that a large percentage of Americans do not have government-issued photo ID.
“Studies show that as many as 12% of eligible voters do not have government-issued photo ID,” the Center wrote. “That percentage is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students.”
Another Brennan Center of Justice study found that new laws could make it more difficult for up to five million Americans to vote.
A perfect example of this can be found in the case of 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper of Tennessee, which has grabbed national attention. She has missed voting only one presidential election since 1936. But now, thanks to a new voter ID law just passed in her state, she probably will not be able to vote again.
The Texas voter ID law is also controversial for a number of reasons. For example, it allows voters to use a concealed carry permit as a form of valid ID – but not a college ID.
Could New Mexico be next?
Secretary of State Dianna Duran has made implementing voter identification one of her trademark issues since elected last year.
Duran made headlines when she claimed that 117 foreign nationals were registered to vote in New Mexico and that she had proof that 37 had voted in recent elections in New Mexico. However, when asked to provide evidence, Duran refused and possibly violated the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act.
Last week, NAACP issued a call to pushback against attacks on voting rights and the impact of voter suppression attacks on communities of color.
In the rural South, many people of a certain age have no birth certificate because they were born to a midwife, thus for them, the barriers to getting a state issued ID without a birth certificate are especially daunting. In addition, many others are dependent on rides to the polls provided by church-organized Sunday voting drives, which have been shut down in some states.
Sarah Kennedy’s back with her latest installment on the subject of redistricting. With the help of her trusty Connect Four board, she gives us the skinny on the Voting Rights Act — and the dastardly methods that mapmakers have used to dilute the voting strength of minority populations:
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed suit against Secretary of State Dianna Duran and Duran’s records custodian Christiana Sanchez over the rejection of Inspection of Public Records Act requests from media outlets and other groups.
The IPRA requests came in relation to the Secretary of State’s claims that 37 foreign nationals illegally voted in New Mexico elections and an investigation where Duran’s office turned over 64,000 names to the New Mexico Department of Public Safety.
The ACLU of New Mexico says that turning the records over to the DPS were “in an effort to shield the data that she had collected from disclosure pursuant to IPRA.”
Duran was grilled by legislators last week over the secretive investigation into the voter rolls which Duran repeatedly said is not to find voter fraud but to ensure the accuracy of voter rolls.
Duran rejected the IPRA requests from a number of media outlets and groups including the ACLU of New Mexico in both cases. Duran used “executive privilege” to deny the requests.
“These sorts of hit-and-run allegations are reckless and irresponsible,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson in a statement. “Without offering any proof, the Secretary of State has undermined the public’s confidence in our elections system while hiding the evidence for her claims behind the cloak of executive privilege.”
Director of the New Mexico Bureau of Elections Bobbi Shearer said in March, “There’s evidence that they’re in the foreign national database, that their name and date of birth matches, and their social security number in our data is not valid, and that they did cast votes.”
The next day, the ACLU filed an IPRA request where the group requested “All records pertaining to possible voter fraud and/or any irregularities noted in the master list of registered voters in New Mexico involving foreign nationals.”
The Secretary of State’s office claimed the records that were obtained from the Motor Vehicles Division were exempt from IPRA requests because of the Drivers Protection Privacy Act and the New Mexico Driver Protection Privacy Act.
Heath Haussamen of NMPolitics.net wrote about Duran’s refusal to release any records, even those that were public records, like voter registration forms. Haussamen spoke to Sarah Welsh, the executive director of the open government group New Mexico Foundation for Open Government.
For starters, she said, it “doesn’t make any sense” to say that a law that makes MVD records confidential “somehow makes voter registrations confidential.”
“They’re public records,” Welsh said. “Under any other circumstances they would be public records.”
Welsh also said it’s concerning any time a government agency claims executive privilege because it’s “a nebulous” claim. She said the redactions in e-mails provided to the ACLU and me “don’t seem to fit under FOG’s view of executive privilege.” She also said it “stands in contrast to” the executive order Gov. Susana Martinez issued detailing how her administration would and would not use executive privilege.
The lawsuit also says that the idea for checking the voter rolls came from Colorado elections director Judd Choate. Choate e-mailed Duran’s office in March.
The e-mail from Mr. Choate stated that on March 8, 2011, the Colorado Secretary of State would hold a news conference to discuss legislation under consideration in the Colorado House that would allow the Colorado Department of State to spot check and investigate voter registrations for the possibility that non-citizens are 1) currently registered to vote, 2) are being accidentally registered to vote, or 3) are willfully seeking to register in violation of both state and potentially federal law. In addition, simultaneous with this press conference, the Colorado Department of State planned to issue a report outlining the research they had undertaken to determine if there were persons currently registered to vote who may not be U.S. citizens. Mr. Choate concluded by stating that “I wanted to warn you that this report will be issued in case it becomes a national story requiring that you address the issue relative to your state.”
“It is disappointing that our Secretary of State would go to such extraordinary lengths to hide important public records from New Mexicans,” said ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Alexandra Freedman Smith in a statement. “Governor Martinez promised that her administration would usher in a new era of openness and transparency in New Mexico government. It’s a shame that Diana Duran does not share the governor’s commitment.”
Upon entering office, Susana Martinez signed an executive order limited the use of executive privilege in her office. Duran is not part of Martinez’s office and is not subject to the executive order.