We needed Secretary of State Dianna Duran to lead a transparent probe of the voter rolls that included county clerks from both parties so we could know there was evidence to back up the conclusions and that partisanship wasn’t an issue. We didn’t need a snarky report we can’t trust.
There should be no doubt that electoral fraud can and does happen, at least occasionally, in New Mexico.
Two of the most recent examples come from Doña Ana County, where a former Sunland Park judge was sentenced to 18 months on probation in 2009 for fraudulently voting and registering as a candidate for judge, and where someone involved in the county GOP allegedly altered seven voter registration forms to change new voters’ party affiliation from “declined to state” to Republican.
There should also be no doubt that there are problems with New Mexico’s voter rolls. Secretary of State Dianna Duran knows it. County clerks from both parties know it.
There should be a bipartisan way to address these issues. Voters essentially charged Duran with leading such an effort when they elected her last year, making her the first Republican secretary of state in eight decades. Duran had the support of many Democrats, including some county clerks.
In electing Duran, voters sent a strong message that they’re tired of shenanigans in the Secretary of State’s Office and want integrity in their elections.
But instead of leading a bipartisan effort to address problems with the voter file, Duran has created division with a months-long investigation that lacked transparency and integrity. As a result, the likelihood of county clerks and legislators from both parties coming together to address issues with the voter rolls is lessened.
I’ve spent months chronicling the mess, so I’ll sum it up here only briefly. Duran appeared at a hearing on voter ID legislation in March claiming that her office had matched 117 voter registrations to people in the MVD foreign national database using names and dates of birth. She claimed to have evidence of 37 foreign nationals illegally voting in elections and said she still had thousands of registrations to check against Social Security records.
It was a bold claim that, if true, would reveal a serious problem with New Mexico’s voter rolls. I and others requested documents to back up the claim. My intent was to review the evidence so I could tell the public whether Duran was right.
But Duran and her office refused to release the records and, in doing so, violated the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act more than once.
Duran in part blamed Attorney General Gary King for her secrecy, telling me his office advised her to withhold records and that, though she wanted to be “as transparent and open as we can… with certain advice from our attorney, we’re limited.”
Which is, of course, crap. Duran is an independent elected official who can do what she thinks is right regardless of King’s advice.
Duran’s office later confused her stance on the AG’s advice. As I wrote earlier this month, in a recent letter to the AG, Duran wrote that she’s been requesting guidance from his office since March on whether she can release records and has “still not received clear guidance as to such disclosure or non-disclosure.”
Did she blame King months ago to try to deflect criticism? What’s true? It’s impossible to tell.
More like a commentary than an investigative report
Earlier this month, Duran finally released her report detailing the results of the months-long investigation. It found that 19 N.M. voters might be foreign nationals. That’s in addition to the two who voluntarily reported their status as illegally registered voters earlier this year.
The document read more like a commentary than an investigative report. It tossed out a bunch of impressive numbers that may very well be accurate – 105 registered voters may not be U.S. citizens; 19 of them have voted in N.M. elections; 2,608 voting records use a Social Security number that’s assigned to two individuals; six use a Social Security number that’s assigned to three people; there are 641 dead people still on the voter rolls.
But the report included no supporting documentation. No evidence to back up its claims. Instead, the document took shots at Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver for not doing enough to address problems, even though the Democratic clerk forwarded 1,300 voter registration forms to law enforcement in 2008 because she suspected fraud or other problems with them.
The document also contained snarky language about anyone who might challenge it. Here’s an example:
“In this interim report… we have identified thousands of discrepancies, or potential opportunities for voting irregularity and fraud. We are confident that some will say that ‘it’s only a few thousand’, or that they will vigorously disparage the findings, and assert their strong ‘belief’ that the findings are unimportant. Again, we have no issue with those kinds of talking points, assertions, or attitudes. We expect them from political and partisan interests. We are simply not in that game. Our duty is to the people of New Mexico, their Constitution and their laws; not to parties, candidates, lobbies, special interest groups or political action committees.”
A wasted opportunity
But Duran had the opportunity, coming off her impressive and bipartisan election, to unite elections officials from both parties behind a compromise to improve election integrity and make it difficult for the naysayers in the Legislature to win the day.
Instead, Duran has hidden evidence from county clerks and the public, attempted to deflect criticism onto the Democratic AG, taken shots at a Democratic county clerk, and, in her report, taken a tone that seems to be more about winning an argument than finding solutions.
That’s the most unfortunate part. Though technology has helped clerks and the secretary of state make dramatic improvements to New Mexico’s voter rolls in the last 10-15 years, it’s clear there are still problems with the system. We need solutions.
We needed Duran to lead a transparent investigation that included the county clerks – from both parties – throughout the entire process, so we could know there was evidence to back up the conclusions and that partisanship wasn’t an issue. We needed Duran to unite our state’s elections officials behind solutions so lawmakers would be pressured into acting.
We didn’t need a snarky report we can’t trust.
What a wasted opportunity.