Crying Wolf: NM’s Secretary of State and Voter Fraud (VIDEO)

Secretary of State Dianna Duran kicked of the year with great media fanfare by making some very serious fraud allegations involving as many as 64,000 New Mexico voters.

A short time later, she sounded the alarm once again by taking the extraordinary step of bypassing county election officials altogether and instead turning over the voter files in question over to the State Police for investigation and possible criminal prosecution.

And yet today, after all of that initial sound and fury (not to mention public expense), it all seems to have all amounted to a whole bunch of nothin’. Oh never mind!

You can read about it in this excellent post at Democracy for New Mexico. But before you do, watch Sarah Kennedy’s short video on the subject. It’s a real howl!

Legality of Actions Questioned: Duran grilled over voter file examination (UPDATED)

By Matthew Reichbach

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

Secretary of State Dianna Duran was grilled by lawmakers at an interim Courts, Corrections and Justice hearing Friday morning. The main topic of discussion was Duran’s decision to send tens of thousands of names that her office says are potentially fraudulent to the Department of Public Safety (DPS), or state police.

Duran repeatedly denied that she was looking for voter fraud throughout the hearing and said numerous times that she is merely trying to ensure “accuracy in the voter files.” Duran blamed the media for stoking the flames of people believing she is looking for voter fraud.

Rep. Gail Chasey, D-Albuquerque, questioned the legality of sending over 60,000 names on the voter file to the Department of Public Safety instead of referring it to the Attorney General or District Attorneys with jurisdiction in the area.

Chasey quoted section 1-2-1(3) of state election code which says the Secretary of State should “through the attorney general or the district attorney having jurisdiction, bring such actions as deemed necessary and proper for the enforcement of the provisions of the Election Code.”

Chasey also said, “It doesn’t appear to me that DPS should be allowed [under the law] to have social security numbers. That’s my issue on transparency and I don’t think that we want to invade people’s privacy.” Chasey cited 1-4-5(E) in the election code which says:

“It is unlawful for the qualified elector’s date of birth or any portion of the qualified elector’s social security number required on the certificate of registration to be copied, conveyed or used by anyone other than the person registering to vote, either before or after it is filed with the county clerk, and by elections administrators in their official capacity.”

Other legislators wondered why Duran did not send the information to county clerks. Duran said that it was a lot of information and that they are not yet at the step in the process where county clerks will be involved. “We are working closely with them,” Duran said, but added that the clerks will receive the information when the names have been categorized.

When asked, Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who oversees the elections in the state’s most populous county, whether it would have been overly burdensome if the Secretary of State’s office had come to her before sending the information to the DPS, Toulouse Oliver told Clearly New Mexico, “Absolutely not.” Continue reading

US Senators seek guidance on legality of voter ID laws

By Matthew Reichbach

A letter by Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., and fifteen other U.S. Senators including Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., seeks guidance from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on whether or not Voter ID laws violate the Voting Rights Act.

New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez and Secretary of State Dianna Duran are both staunch supporters of a controversial change to the law that would require all voters to provide identification before voting.

“These measures have the potential to block millions of eligible American voters without addressing any problem commensurate with this kind of restriction on voting rights,” the Senators wrote in the letter. “Voting is the foundation of our democracy, and we urge you to protect the voting rights of Americans by using the full power of the Department of Justice to review these voter identification laws and scrutinize their implementation.”

“Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act vests significant authority in the Department to review laws before they are implemented in covered jurisdictions,” the letter states. “As you know, the burden of proof in this preclearance process is on those covered jurisdictions, which must be able to show that legal changes will not have a discriminatory impact on minority voters.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 14 states have some sort of voter ID law that requires a photo ID. Seven of these states have “strict” photo ID laws where voters can only cast ballots with photo ID. If the voter does not have a photo ID, they can vote with a provisional ballot but it will not be counted if they do not return with a valid photo ID.

Seven other states have less strict voter ID laws and 15 states have non-photo ID laws.

Three bills in New Mexico that sought to require photo IDs to vote failed in the 2011 session.

In Colorado, Secretary of State Scott Gessler testified before a congressional committee that nearly 5,000 people who were not citizens voted in the 2010 elections. Gessler based the numbers on who voted in 2010 from immigration numbers from five years previous — in which time more then 30,000 non-citizens in Colorado became legal United States citizens.

New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran recently went further and claimed that there could be 64,000 cases of voter fraud. This week, Duran walked back her claims in an interview with the Santa Fe New Mexican.

“Don’t use the words voter fraud, ” Duran told the New Mexican. “I’m just trying to assure the accuracy of our voter files. … It’s not a fishing expedition. It’s not a witch hunt.”

The Brennan Center for Justice wrote that Duran “doubled down” on “dubious claims of voter fraud.”

All fifteen U.S. Senators that signed onto the letter are Democrats.

Duran claims 10 percent of all votes could be voter fraud

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.”

The Very Latest on the ACLU’s Request for Documents in the Driver’s License Debate

By Tracy Dingmann

On March 16, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico filed a public information request with the offices of Gov. Susana Martinez and Secretary of State Dianna Duran, asking for all records and correspondence related to Duran’s announcement on March 15 that her office had uncovered possible instances of voter fraud by foreign nationals.

The ACLU-NM said it made the Inspection of Public Records Act request in an attempt to ensure the transparency and objectivity of Duran’s investigation, which ostensibly involved Duran comparing a “database” of foreign nationals with driver’s licenses at the state Motor Vehicle Department with voter information housed with the Secretary of State.

The ACLU requested all records, documents and communication circulated between the Governor’s office and Duran’s office regarding alleged voter fraud or voting “irregularities” by foreign nationals –in essence – asking Duran and Martinez to provide proof of their alarming allegations that voter fraud in New Mexico is rampant.

Some Documents In; Some Not

On Wednesday (April 6,), ACLU-NM executive director Peter Simonson told Clearly New Mexico that he has received a packet of documents from the Secretary of State, but nothing yet from the Governor’s office.

The documents from Duran’s office are so redacted that they are essentially worthless, Simonson said.

Continue reading

ACLU Files Massive Public Info Request With Offices of Governor, SOS in Connection with ‘Voter Fraud’ Claim

By Tracy Dingmann

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico has filed a massive public information request for records from Governor Susana Martinez and Secretary of State Dianna Duran in connection with Duran’s announcement that her office has uncovered possible instances of voter fraud by foreign nationals.

The request, filed today (March 16), is seeking all records and correspondence related to Duran’s announcement on March 15.

By making the requests, the ACLU-NM, said, it is seeking to ensure the transparency and objectivity of the Secretary of State’s investigation.

“We want to know the motivations behind this investigation and the validity of any assertions that the New Mexico law allowing drivers licenses for all immigrants contributed to voter fraud,” said ACLU-NM Executive Director Peter Simonson.

“We take claims of voter fraud seriously because they undermine voter confidence in our electoral system and tend to discourage participation in elections. We also wish to ensure that any exchange of records in this investigation did not violate voter privacy guarantees that are written into state law.”

Continue reading

An Obsessive and Frightening Zeal

Gov. Susana Martinez

By Tracy Dingmann

As the 60-day legislative session winds to a close and Gov. Susana Martinez completes her first few months in office, the people of New Mexico still lack a coherent plan from the executive-in-chief to generate jobs and stimulate the economy.

What New Mexicans DO have from Gov. Martinez is a solid, three-point plan to persecute undocumented immigrants.

She’s been working overtime on that.

Today’s Albuquerque Journal detailed the Governor’s plan to give Secretary of State Dianna Duran a list of New Mexico driver’s licenses issued to foreign nationals so they can be cross-checked against the state’s voter registration rolls.

Continue reading

Complaint Over Gov’s Driver’s License Ads Still Pending

Secretary of State Dianna Duran

By Tracy Dingmann

On Thursday we heard that Secretary of State Dianna Duran found Gov. Susana Martinez did not violate the state Campaign Reporting Act by using money raised for her 2010 gubernatorial campaign to pay for a radio ad that aired in Albuquerque last month.

The radio ad had exhorted New Mexicans to call their legislators and ask them to vote for a bill that would stop the state of New Mexico from issuing driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. It was a favored issue of Martinez’s during the campaign and since taken office as governor on Jan. 1. There has been much speculation about the motives behind her push to get the law passed.

Duran’s ruling was in response to a complaint filed with the Secretary of State’s office by the immigrants rights group Somos un Pueblo Unido. In the ruling, Duran said Martinez’ 2010 campaign committee is now her 2014 reelection campaign committee, and the money used for lobbying ads are legitimate 2014 campaign expenditures. Duran said she would not refer the matter to Attorney General Gary King or the district attorney.

When Duran announced her decision, many were tempted to think it was the end of the matter.

It’s not.

Continue reading