Justice Department announces review of voter ID laws: What’s in store for NM?

By Matthew Reichbach

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.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

“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.

Duran issued a report in November that,  according to veteran political reporter Heath Haussamen, reads “more like a commentary than an investigative report.” The report, according to Haussamen, “included no supporting documentation. No evidence to back up its claims.”

Last week, Haussamen said on Twitter he had extended an invitation to Duran or her staff to respond to his criticisms.

Three separate voter ID bills were introduced during the 2012 legislative session, but none made it out of committee before the end of the session.

National pushback against voter suppression

Yesterday, the ACLU filed suit against the state of Wisconsin over its newly enacted Voter ID law.

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.

Here’s a new video produced by the NAACP:

 

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!

ACLU files suit against SOS Duran over secretive investigation

By Matthew Reichbach

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.

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.”

Pat Rogers: A Dream Derailed

During the long dark night of the struggle for Civil Rights, poet Langston Hughes asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”

Today Pat Rogers could be asking this very question because yesterday we learned that Bush White House operatives also had a dream.  And he was it.

In late 2008, their reveries were dancing with visions of Pat Rogers replacing the then recently fired David Iglesias as U.S. Attorney in New Mexico.

In the yesterday’s document release by the House Judiciary Committee, there was an email to Karl Rove from his top deputy, Scott Jennings. It assessed the four candidates for Iglesias’ job:

Domenici wants Peifer.

Our political team wants Bibb, but Domenici doesn’t like him for some reason.

Rogers would be the dream, but won’t do it.

Who is Pat Rogers? He’s a long-time activist and leader in New Mexico’s Republican Party, serving as its general counsel and as its representative on the RNC. Recently, he was rewarded for his efforts with an appointment to the RNC’s Executive Committee by Chairman Michael Steele.

So why did the Rovians like Rogers so much?  It was because he shared their dream.

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