New Mexico, it’s time to modernize our elections (VIDEO)

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.

Of course, Sarah has some answers:

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:

 

Sarah’s Redistricting Lesson: The Dastardly Ways (VIDEO)

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:

 

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.

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

A Few Things You Might Not Know about Early Voter Registration

castaballot2We all know that the right to vote in elections is one of the most cherished and unique freedoms available to United States citizens. Americans of all political stripes recognize that the right to vote is the cornerstone of our freely-elected democracy and a crucial tenet that sets us apart from many other nations.

But too often, eligible voters face barriers such as work, childcare, transportation issues or lack of evening or weekend hours at registration sites that keep them from registering to vote. And among those who do register to vote, a significant portion don’t subsequently make it to the polls. These are eligible voters, representing all political parties, who for various reasons find it difficult to complete the two-step process of registering and then, at least one month later, getting to the polls to cast their vote. Continue reading

Two Roads to 2008: Miguel and the Boogie Man

Millions of words are being written about the significance of Barack Obama’s victory last week – the emergence of a new majority coalition, the fundamental redrawing of the electoral map, the transcending of America’s historic racial divide.

The 2008 election is one for the ages.

A look back always helps to put things in context. I see where PBS’s Frontline will broadcast “Boogie Man – The Lee Atwater Story.” Appropriate.

Twenty years ago – November 1988: Lee Atwater was the master of American politics, having just managed the successful presidential campaign of George H. W. Bush. That was the campaign that sharpened racial divisions, making “Willie Horton” and “wedge issues” household words. Lee pioneered the art of push polling and voter suppression. Continue reading