Police are investigating allegations that someone involved in the Doña Ana County Republican Party illegally altered seven voter registration forms to change new voters’ party affiliation from “declined to state” to Republican.
Doña Ana County Sheriff Todd Garrison confirmed this evening that his agency agreed to investigate but is handing the case over to the Las Cruces Police Department. Garrison, a Republican, said that is being done to avoid any perception that the case might be treated differently than any other case.
County Clerk Lynn Ellins said staffers in his office discovered the altered forms at the beginning of October. On nine forms, Ellins said, both “declined to state” and Republican were selected under party registration.
Staffers called the people whose names were on the forms. Seven of the nine said they selected declined to state, not Republican, and didn’t authorize that the forms be changed. The other two said they changed their own forms.
The county registered the seven as independents, as they indicated was their intent, so for practical purposes the attempt to alter the forms won’t affect the voters’ status in any way.
Altering a voter registration form is a fourth-degree felony, Ellins said.
‘This is outrageous’
Mark Van Dyke, the chairman of the county GOP, said he hopes police are able to catch the person responsible. The Republican Party of Doña Ana County is home to some of the most vocal complainers in the state about allegations of voter fraud, and Van Dyke said the party won’t tolerate such activity.
“The Republican Party of Doña Ana County is well on record for hating voter fraud, so when the allegation comes to our house, we take it very seriously,” Van Dyke said. “It’s a felony for a reason. This is outrageous.”
Van Dyke said his understanding is that the “R” on the seven voter registration forms is in different handwriting than was used to fill out the rest of each form. He said he has no doubt that someone within his organization is responsible, but the party hasn’t been able to identify that person.
Ellins said his office contacted the attorney general, secretary of state, district attorney and sheriff about the situation. The AG and DA declined to investigate. The Secretary of State’s Office said it would have referred the complaint to the AG. Only the sheriff agreed to take the case.
GOP takes steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again
Van Dyke said he has taken steps to ensure nothing like this happens again.
Ellins notified Van Dyke of the situation on Oct. 7. At a meeting on Oct. 9, Van Dyke disbanded the party’s voter registration committee – an action that will remain in effect until each party voter registration agent is retrained by the county clerk’s office.
Van Dyke has also implemented a new procedure for turning over voter registration forms to the clerks’ office. Prior to this incident, the party’s voter registration agents brought completed forms to the party office, where someone proofread them to make sure everything was filled out accurately. Then the forms were turned in to the clerk’s office in one batch.
It was at the proofreading stage that the forms were likely altered, Van Dyke said. In the future, voter registration agents will be responsible for turning in the forms they collect to the clerk’s office themselves and then notifying the party of how many forms they turned in.
Van Dyke said altering the forms was not only wrong and counter to the party’s focus on combating alleged voter fraud, but it was also nonsensical. Changing the forms so people were registered as Republicans had no potential benefit to Republicans, even if it had been successful.
Ellins said he’s shocked that someone would try to get away with altering the forms when each had to be reviewed and manually inputted into the clerk’s system by an employee.
“I’m astounded that whoever did this didn’t think that we would pick up on it,” he said.
Update, 11:30 p.m.
Deputy District Attorney Amy Orlando said her office “properly directed the county clerk’s office to send all information and materials about this case to law enforcement to be fully investigated.” She said the office has “absolutely” not declined the case – it has not yet been presented to the DA’s office by law enforcement for review.
Update, 11:50 p.m.
In addition, this e-mail from the chief deputy county clerk to a staffer in the DA’s office states that the materials related to the case were sent to the sheriff’s department “per your request.”
Update, Oct. 29, 12:35 p.m.
Ellins said this to clarify what he meant about the district attorney and AG declining to investigate:
“The district attorney investigator told us to refer to the sheriff because his office was swamped. It’s not that they didn’t want to. They told us they couldn’t, so we referred it to the sheriff.”
“And the attorney general did pretty much the same thing. He said to refer it to local law enforcement.”