SOS Third Party Suppression

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NM Secretary of State “data error” kicks Libertarian and Independent off ballot

 

 

Voter Suppression in New Mexico Under Dianna Duran

March 2011:  

SOS claims to have found 64,000 illegally registered voters through database match with MVD license records.   Duran later withdrew the claim after she could not provide evidence of her claim. 

 

June 2012:  

SOS eliminates straight party voting, a voting method used by 41% voters (approximately 250,000) in the last election.

 

July 2012:  

Duran joins others Secretaries of State asking for access to federal immigration databases to compare to state voter rolls.  News reports later report that the database cannot be used to accurately identify voters.

 

August 2012:  

Duran inactivates 177,000+ registered voters for being non-residents or non-voters.  Among those to first receive the purge notice is the state’s voting rights director, a lifelong resident and voter.

 

August 2012: 

SOS bars Libertarian and IAP candidates from the ballot after her office accidentally disqualified hundreds of valid nominating signatures.  The Libertarian candidate is restored after a hand review.  The SOS’s office refused to conduct that search for the IAP candidate.

 

New Mexico’s Republican Secretary of State has gone to extraordinary lengths to exclude conservative-leaning minority parties from November’s general election, a Dianna Duranmove that bolsters razor-thin margins for Republican Heather Wilson in the upcoming US Senate race unless a legal challenge can overcome it.

In the home state of Libertarian Party presidential-candidate (and former NM Governor) Gary Johnson, Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran disqualified Libertarian Party State House Candidate Bob Walsh and Independent American Party US Senate CandidateJon Barrie earlier this month, despite both candidates presenting an apparently large enough number of petition signatures to qualify for each position.

Both Libertarians and the newly formed Independent American Party are seen as rivals to the conservative Republican Party.   Fox News reports that Libertarian Johnson could pull as much as 5% of the national vote in the November general election, 13% in New Mexico – almost all of that from Republican Mitt Romney.

Similarly, a conservative-leaning third party candidate could pull votes from Heather Wilson in her US Senate race with Martin Heinrich.  Polls put that race at tied or barely leaning Heinrich in early summer counts.

With Republican options limited, eliminating conservative opposition to Wilson is a critical tactic for Republicans in the state and one Secretary Duran is apparently doubling-down on.

Earlier this month, the Secretary Duran disqualified both Libertarian and IAP candidates from the ballot after a special software system failed to verify a sufficient number of signatures on their respective nominating petitions.  However, after Walsh demanded a hand count, the “data error” was uncovered and Walsh was restored to the ballot.

In an email and phone interview with ProgressNow NM earlier this week, Walsh explained:

As the Libertarian candidate for State Representative, District 48, I submitted a petition with 132 signatures.  On 1 August, the Secretary of State notified meWalshthat the office was “unable to qualify” the 102 required…  Of these, 38 were rejected as “NOT REGISTERED.”

One voter had printed the name exactly as registered.  One had printed “Jean” instead of “Jeanne.”  The third had printed “Chris” instead of “Christopher.”  The law does not require that the name be printed at all, so it does not have to be an exact match to the names as registered.

I returned the same day to meet with Bobbi Shearer, Bureau of Elections Director.  She verified that those three signatures should not have been rejected.

She explained that they had entered the names and addresses into a software product, which apparently had required an exact match of the names [a standard in conflict with state law]. 

We agreed that it would be better to search for the address and then see if any voter registered at the address appeared to be the person signing the petition.  She agreed to recheck all of my rejected signatures.  On 6 August she informed me that 12 of the 38 had been verified to be valid (more than one-third), bringing the total to exactly the 102 required.

Voila!  With vigilance and persistence, Mr. Walsh had forced the Secretary of State’s Office to prove that their software program was valid, instead proving that once again Secretary Duran had relied on newly invented processes and interpretations of law to reconstruct New Mexico’s election system in her partisan vision.

Fast-forward a few days and US Senate candidate Jon Barrie encounters the same problem with the Secretary of State.

According to the Independent Political Report, he needed 6,018 signatures, submittedJon Barrie 10,279 signatures, and was told that the SOS’s same review process had determined that he lacked 277 valid signatures to be listed on the ballot.

ProgressNowNM contacted Barrie on Wednesday.  In a phone interview, Barrie explained that after hearing Walsh’s story, he too petitioned the Secretary of State for a meeting and on August 6 personally requested Secretary Duran’s office conduct the same hand review they had provided to the Libertarian Walsh, but his request was flatly denied.

Barrie tells ProgressNow New Mexico that his campaign has verified more than three-dozen of the denied signatures in just the first few hours after his meeting with Duran and is considering a legal challenge.

Early Thursday morning ProgressNow New Mexico spoke by phone with Deputy SOS Mary Quintana and Bobbi Sharer, Bureau of Elections Director, who insisted that the time for the office to assist Barrie had passed.  Shearer shared that she did work with Barrie to verify at least one of the previously disqualified voters, indicating that the SOS’s verification system was likely as flawed in the Barrie case as it was in the Walsh case.

At the moment, Duran’s decision to bar Barrie from the ballot stands but Walsh’s experience shows that the secretary’s system and decision making are flawed – even bordering on incompetent or blatantly partisan rule making – and could be overturned with a simple challenge to interpret and enforce the letter of the law, not a computer interpretation of it.

If the US Senate race remains close, Republican Duran’s decision could decide this critical election (Florida c. 2000 anyone?).