There’s no indication that New Mexico’s voter databases were improperly accessed, according to New Mexico’s secretary of state. This comes even as U.S. senators probed the issue in a hearing Wednesday morning. Wednesday morning, Jeanette Manfra, the acting undersecretary for cybersecurity and communications at DHS, told the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee that election systems in 21 states were targeted in a Russian cyber attack. declined to say which states were targeted or what, if any, data was accessed by the hackers. Jeh Johnson said that while interference by Russia “was unprecedented” in “scale and scope,” there was no indication that Russians changed any votes in 2016.
In news that surprised no one, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Tuesday that she will run for reelection. “From modernizing campaign finance rules to increasing ballot access and voter education in our native and rural communities, we are making swift progress on many of the priorities I set early on,” the Democrat said in her press release. “I look forward to serving a full term for the people of New Mexico so that we can continue to combat dark money in politics, raise the bar for transparency and accountability in government and cement our sacred voting rights for every eligible citizen.”
No other candidate has announced their intention to run. Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, won election in 2016, defeating Republican Nora Espinoza. The position is normally contested in non-presidential years, but the election was held in 2016 because Dianna Duran resigned from her position as Secretary of State hours before pleading guilty to criminal charges related to campaign finance.
The Legislature asked a state district court Monday to invalidate 10 vetoes by Gov. Susana Martinez of bills state lawmakers passed during this year’s regular session. The petition filed with the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe came after the Legislative Council voted to approve it earlier this year. A spokesman for the governor said the legal challenge is “another example of out-of-touch Santa Fe trial lawyers wasting time and taxpayer money going to court when they don’t get what they want.”
Democrats say Martinez violated the state constitution by not explaining why she vetoed the 10 bills. The complaint describes the two categories of vetoes: Half of the bills were vetoed within three days after being presented to the governor. But the governor did not include her “objections” as required by the state constitution.
A handful of bills passed by both the state Senate and House of Representatives continue to sit in limbo. Normally, those bills would be signed or vetoed by the governor. Instead, their fate likely lies with the judicial branch. The head of the Legislative Council Service (LCS), the nonpartisan administrative arm of the state Legislature, said he and his staff suggested to lawmakers and the secretary of state that some vetoed bills should actually be chaptered. Chaptering, or printing, the bills is typically the first step to writing them into state statute.
Judges may have to decide whether five bills that Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed during the last week will actually become law. Democratic lawmakers say the Republican governor did not properly veto the legislation, which includes a bill to allow research on industrial hemp in New Mexico, and they maintain the measures will become law after all. On Friday, the deputy to Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said her office would not add the bills to the law books unless instructed by a court. “Whether the governor met her constitutional obligation by vetoing these five bills in the manner in which she did is a question that should be answered by our court system,” Deputy Secretary of State John Blair said in an email. “This office will swiftly chapter these bills if and when we receive guidance from the New Mexico courts to do so,” he added, referring to the secretary of state’s role of assigning code numbers to new laws.
Democratic state Rep. Debbie Rodella joined with three Republicans on Thursday to kill a bill that would have allowed people to register to vote within three days of primary or general elections. Eligible voters in New Mexico now must register at least 28 days before an election in order to vote in it. Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces, sponsored the bill to widen the time for registration, saying voting is a right and lawmakers should make it easier for people to cast a ballot. His proposal, Senate Bill 224, would have allowed for the extended registration period at early voting sites, many of which have real-time access to New Mexico’s voter registration system. For those lacking that technology, voters would have been allowed to cast provisional ballots that wouldn’t be counted until a subsequent verification of whether the registrant was eligible to vote.
An automatic voter registration bill lost a bit of what made it automatic, but moved on from the House committee that previously blocked it. State Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Albuquerque, was one of two Democrats to previously vote against the legislation in the House Local Government, Elections and Land Grant Committee. He explained after that vote that he voted against the bill initially so he could bring it off the table, citing a parliamentary rule, and reconsider the matter. The bill was previously tabled in the same committee. Ely brought the bill back Tuesday.
The state Senate voted Wednesday to require more transparency about the political spending of so-called “dark money” groups while also doubling the amount of money that individuals can donate to candidates for public office. Senate Bill 96 has won backing from campaign finance reform advocates who have pushed for years to close loopholes that allow groups to spend large sums of money to influence elections without having to disclose their donors. But a section that would allow candidates to raise far more money from private individuals prompted one Democrat to split with his party and oppose the proposal altogether. “People want money out of politics,” said Sen. Jeff Steinborn, D-Las Cruces. “Growing our individual contribution limits is the wrong direction.”
With the state wracked by successive corruption scandals involving top officials, several lawmakers seem to agree that this is the year for ethics reform in New Mexico. A committee of the state House of Representatives gave a boost to those hopes Thursday by advancing a bipartisan proposal to establish an independent ethics commission through a constitutional amendment. The commission would have the power to investigate complaints of misconduct by public officials, candidates, lobbyists and contractors. The complaints would be public, and the commission’s opinions could be appealed to the state courts. Campaign finance reform advocates and good government groups have fought for years to create such a body.
The biggest spender among lobbyists in New Mexico last year was not employed by an oil company or a tobacco company or a mining company. Instead, it was a New York-based advocacy group for gun safety that spent $219,500. The reports, filed this week with the Secretary of State’s Office, show that Pedro Morillas, regional director for Everytown for Gun Safety, spent more than any other lobbyist in the state. And he completely outgunned the National Rifle Association, which spent just over $10,000 on New Mexico candidates last year. Overall, lobbyists spent more than $1.7 million in the state in 2016.