March 29, 2023

Toulouse Oliver talks to Senate about NM elections

Screenshot of New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and other election officials from across the country at the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration on March 28, 2023.

Screenshot of New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and other election officials from across the country at the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration on March 28, 2023.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver testified Tuesday in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Rules and Administration about elections.

The committee heard from Toulouse Oliver and other election officials during a hearing about state and local administration.

“The health of our democracy depends on informed discussions like this about the challenges and opportunities faced by election administrators across our country,” Toulouse Oliver said. “My goal today is to provide you with insight into how election administrators are coping with the new voting and elections landscape and to highlight some of the initiatives we’re taking in New Mexico to support the vital work of county clerks and their staff, poll workers, and the myriad other election professionals who make our American democracy a model for the world.”

Toulouse Oliver discussed how misinformation and election denialism since the 2020 election cycle has made the jobs of election administrators and workers more difficult.

“When many members of the public are mistrustful about the integrity of our elections, election administrators then bear the associated burdens of frivolous lawsuits, excessively burdensome public information requests, disruptive voters and poll workers, and outright threats and harassment,” Toulouse Oliver said. “One of the most important tactics to defend against the detrimental consequences of election misinformation is simply putting good policies in place that are informed by election administrators themselves.”

More: Election reform bills pass Legislature

Three such bills passed the New Mexico Legislature in the 2023 session. One expands voting rights, another provides technical changes to the state Election Code and the third makes it a felony to intimidate election officials.

“Many county clerks have had trouble retaining or hiring poll workers because of the increased stress associated with being involved in elections, so we increased poll worker compensation,” Toulouse Oliver said. “The bill mandates training for poll watchers and challengers, with a curriculum developed by my office, to aid those individuals and election administrators in better understanding the proper role and conduct of watchers and challengers at a polling place. One section clarifies procedures on public information requests to protect the secrecy of the ballot and information about our national critical infrastructure. This section was included after county clerks were inundated with requests for data and other information contained on voting machines (and other sources) that clerks do not actually use for administering elections.”

Toulouse Oliver referenced the alleged drive-by shootings of the houses of six high-ranking Democrats in December and January.

Four were allegedly arranged by failed Republican state senate candidate Solomon Peña, 39 of Albuquerque.

Peña was the alleged mastermind in a series of shootings that took place at the homes of Bernalillo County Commissioner Adriann Barboa, then-Bernalillo County Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, state Sen. Linda Lopez and state Rep. Javier Martinez. State Sen. Anthony “Moe” Maestas’ law office and Attorney General Raúl Torrez’s campaign headquarters also reported shootings nearby. Police have not linked these shootings to the other four.

Peña is currently being held in detention pending a trial.

Because of these attacks, a provision was included in SB 180 that makes candidate and elected officials’ home addresses confidential, with some exceptions, on election-related and candidate reporting documents.

Peña allegedly was inspired in his actions by election misinformation.

A recently released report from the U.S. Intelligence Community states that Russian misinformation campaigns have undermined and continue to undermine U.S. elections.

The Annual Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community, prepared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is an annual report of worldwide threats to U.S. national security from the perspective of the U.S. intelligence community.

“Moscow views U.S. elections as opportunities for malign influence as part of its larger foreign policy strategy. Moscow has conducted influence operations against U.S. elections for decades, including as recently as the U.S. midterm elections in 2022,” the report states. “It will try to strengthen ties to U.S. persons in the media and politics in hopes of developing vectors for future influence operations.”

The report includes a short explanation of how Russia has entered the Western information firmament.

“Russia’s influence actors have adapted their efforts to increasingly hide their hand, laundering their preferred messaging through a vast ecosystem of Russian proxy websites, individuals, and organizations that appear to be independent news sources,” the report states. “Moscow seeds original stories or amplifies preexisting popular or divisive discourse using a network of state media, proxy, and social media influence actors and then intensifies that content to further penetrate the Western information environment. These activities can include disseminating false content and amplifying information perceived as beneficial to Russian influence efforts or conspiracy theories.”

Toulouse Oliver also requested federal funding for election administration.

“Sufficient funding for election administration, however, remains an obstacle for many election offices across the country,” Toulouse Oliver said. “The federal government can help states and their election administrators by providing consistent, robust funding streams.”

The federal funding would be used to supplement training, physical security upgrades or strengthening cyber security defenses.

“Without more consistent federal funding to states for elections, administrators may have to contend with outdated equipment and technology, persistent staffing issues and other circumstances that can inhibit the efficient conduct of elections,” Toulouse Oliver said. “The federal government has an important role to play in assisting states with the conduct of elections, though each state is different, with different needs, and states should continue to be the ultimate authority on running their own elections.”

Toulouse Oliver voiced her support for minimum standards for ballot accessibility through early and absentee voting to promote equity for voters.

The Voter Rights Act, HB 4, included protections and improved voting access for Native Americans through the Native American Voting Rights Act, enhances voter registration systems and voter data privacy, restores voting rights to formerly incarcerated felons, created a voluntary permanent absentee ballot list which allows voters who usually vote by absentee ballot to be on a list so they don’t have to reapply for each election, sets up automatic voter registration when updating address or presenting documents at Motor Vehicle Divisions and other state agencies and designates Election Day as a school holiday.

The other speakers included Nebraska Secretary of State  Robert Evnen, South Carolina State Election Commission Executive Director Howard Knapp, Durham County (North Carolina) Director of Elections Derek Bowens and Marcia Johnson of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

The hearing can be found on the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration’s website.