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.
“The redactions were so heavy that they don’t allow us to make any determination,” said Simonson. “The Secretary of State said she redacted the information we requested based on two issues: one, executive privilege; and two, driver privacy protection laws.”
Simonson said it was interesting that Duran would use “executive privilege” as an defense, because that is the same defense Bill Richardson used a few years ago when the Republican Party of New Mexico sued to get exactly the same records from his administration.
In fact, that case is currently pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments on it just a few weeks ago, Simonson said.
“We may want to see the outcome of that ruling, because it will directly affect what they are allowed to claim under the Open Records Act. We will also be looking into what the state’s driver protection laws say, and how executive privilege has been determined. At this point, we’re still trying to look at how to respond.”
What’s The Truth Behind The Claims?
So why is the ACLU-NM continuing to pursue this matter?
“The Secretary of State made some very bold statements about election fraud taking place and implying that undocumented immigrants were voting illegitimately,” Simonson explained. “We find those kinds of claims pretty alarming. We made the request to independently verify whether any of that is going on.”
There have been many claims of voter fraud before, and none of them have been substantiated, Simonson said.
Such claims can have an explosive effect and should be handled judiciously and responsibly by the state officials, he said.
“What is the impact of hearing that there is voter fraud? And if there’s this drumbeat that fraud is occurring, does that undermine public confidence in the system and keep people from voting?”
A Strange Way of Showing Transparency
Simonson said he thinks it’s interesting that Martinez claims to be an advocate of transparency in government.
“If you look at Gov. Martinez’s website, she sites five priorities – and one of them is transparency in government. I think it’s kind of interesting that we got so little information back. We’ll see how it squares up with state law, but my first reaction is that the response we got doesn’t seem to square up with the rhetoric on her website.”