Election Day is a month and a half away and New Mexico’s Secretary of State Maggie Tolouse Oliver wants voters to know the state’s election process works and is safe and secure.
Over the past several weeks, there has been speculation from President Donald Trump and the Republican Party that voting by mail could result in widespread voter fraud. Questions about how secure mail in ballots are is nothing new. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a push by many to encourage voters to mail in their ballots instead of showing up in person to vote.
Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report that she is confident in both her staff and the county clerks’ ability to accurately and efficiently process ballots on Election Day and even the days leading up to it.
National political rhetoric has also seemed to create confusion in New Mexico whether mailing in a ballot is safe. Trump has expressed his concern with mailing in ballots, yet he has voted by mail in Florida, where he is registered to vote. Further, the Republican Party of New Mexico has sent out at least one batch of mailers, encouraging voters to request an absentee ballot and vote in support of Trump.
The city of Albuquerque’s 100th Anniversary of Women’s Suffrage special on Wednesday was both a celebration of the 19th amendment and a reminder of the darker moments behind voting rights. A bevy of women speakers, from political leaders like Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to young women pledging to vote for the first time this year, talked about the importance of voting and frequently referred to it as a way to make their voices heard. Many also spoke about the struggle for women of color to gain the right to vote even after the passage of the 19th amendment. Social justice advocate Pamelya Herndon, executive director and founder of KWH Social Justice Law Center and Change, brought up the education requirements that some Black voters faced for a century in some states after the Civil War ended as just one impediment. Herndon said the historical social justice leader and “leading male feminist of his time,” W.E.B. Du Bois said that “in order for the Black race to be lifted, every single Black person must have the right to vote.”
The women’s suffrage movement distanced itself from the concept of Black women having the right to vote in the early years of the effort because the suffragettes didn’t want to alienate the white Southern women involved in the cause, according to historians.
Democrats in New Mexico, including the Secretary of State, rejected President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the upcoming federal elections be delayed. Trump floated the unlikely idea on Twitter Thursday morning, writing, “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
After pushback, including from Republican leaders who said the idea of moving Election Day back was a non-starter, Trump tweeted that he was glad he got the media to talk about mail-in voting. Election Day is set by federal law and leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, including Republicans, rejected the idea.
A New Mexico Libertarian candidate for the state court of appeals is suing New Mexico’s secretary of state in federal court, claiming his and Libertarian voters’ civil rights were violated in the process of tabulating votes from the state’s primary election.
That candidate, Stephen Curtis, is representing himself as well as the state’s Libertarian Party, the party’s state chairman and a registered Libertarian voter, who is also running for a state House position.
The lawsuit against New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver claims that Curtis, who was a write-in candidate, received “well above the 230-vote threshold” to move on to the state’s general election. Even though Curtis did not face a primary opponent, state law requires write-in candidates to receive a certain number of votes to be placed on the general election ballot.
The lawsuit names Curtis, the state Libertarian Party, Libertarian Party Chairman Chris Lucini as well as Ranota Banks, a Libertarian voter and Libertarian candidate for House District 15, as plaintiffs. The suit asks a federal judge to stop enforcement of a state provision requiring payment for a recount and to force a recount.
“[Toulouse Oliver] abused the authority of her office and, while acting under color of law and with knowledge of Plaintiffs’ established rights, used her office to violate Plaintiffs’ Constitutional rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws,” Curtis wrote.
The suit argues that in one county alone, Curtis received enough votes to qualify him for the general election.
“There is significant and substantial evidence that write-in votes for Mr. Curtis were not correctly tallied,” Curtis wrote. “For example, a Bernalillo County website reflects that 270 write-in votes were case [sic] in the Libertarian Party Primary for Court of Appeals.”
The suit also challenges a state provision that requires candidates who request a recount to cover the cost though cash or a bond. In Curtis’ case, he said he was asked to pay more than $3 million to conduct a recount.
“The burden in question to post a multi-million-dollar bond or cash, to obtain a recount to vindicate the candidate’s and voters’ interests, particularly with substantial evidence of error, imposes a severe burden on the Plaintiffs’ associational interests, and the rights of voters to cast ballots,” Curtis wrote.
The suit also accuses Toulouse Oliver and her office of deliberately ignoring voting total inconsistencies and voting machine errors, therefore violating the rights of voters.
“[Toulouse Oliver’s] actions have deprived the voters for Mr. Curtis of their right to vote, despite knowledge of voting machine errors that were not counting votes, and in violation of equal protection of law,” Curtis wrote.
Curtis was 26 votes short of moving on to the general election, according to Curtis’s suit.
There are two candidates currently qualified for the respective court of appeals spot in the general election: Republican Gertrude Lee and incumbent Democratic candidate Shammara Henderson, who was appointed this year to fill the vacancy of retired judge Moncia Zamora.
A Senate panel significantly watered down a bill late Thursday that aims to streamline the voting-by-mail process if the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing during November’s general election. Senate Bill 4, which is backed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, had proposed to allow county clerks to automatically send mail-in ballots to registered voters without requiring people to request them. But after a three-hour debate, the Senate Rules Committee voted to strike that provision from the bill. Under the revised bill, people would still need to apply for absentee ballots before receiving them. Sen. Cliff Pirtle, R-Roswell, proposed the amendment after Republicans on the panel expressed concerns that automatically mailing ballots would put election security at risk.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is advocating for legislation during this week’s special session that would extend the deadline for counting absentee ballots in the November general election and allow county clerks to automatically send ballots to all registered voters prior to Election Day, her office said. At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toulouse Oliver and a couple of dozen county clerks in the state had pushed for a mail-only primary election to protect poll workers and voters from risks of contracting the viral illness. The state Supreme Court rejected the clerks’ request, however, saying the Legislature would have to approve a change in law to allow mass distribution of ballots by mail to voters who haven’t requested one. Spokesman Alex Curtas said Friday the secretary of state still supports an emergency provision allowing ballots to be sent to voters without an application. She also backs other proposals that could streamline the general election, he added.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver encouraged all voters who wish to participate in the primaries to do so by absentee ballot. Toulouse Oliver spoke at a press conference on Friday, and noted that this election season is different than those in the past.
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“For me, this would normally be a time as we are going into the early voting period here in New Mexico where I’d be extremely excited and say everyone should turn out in robust fashion to their early voting location,” Toulouse Oliver said. But she said that, given the COVID-19 pandemic, everyone who is eligible “Should be planning on voting from home.”
The state already sent out absentee voter applications to every registered, eligible voter; in New Mexico only those who are members of major political parties can vote in primary elections. Those are the Democratic, Libertarian and Republican parties. Already, Toulouse Oliver said, nearly 130,000 voters have applied to receive absentee ballots.
County clerks petitioned the state Supreme Court for an emergency order that would allow the state to move to a primarily mail-in election for the June 2 primary. The clerks, and Secretary of State, say that conditions under the COVID-19 restrictions make it “impossible to lawfully administer” this year’s primary elections. The petition, signed by 27 of the state’s 33 clerks, including five Republicans, said running a regular election would force clerks to decide between following the Election Code or protecting “the health and safety of their community, their voters, their staffs, and themselves.”
To do so, the petition asks for each county clerk to be able to send voters ballots by mail, along with a pre-paid envelope to respond. Voters would still be eligible for replacement of provisional ballots. It would also provide for alternative locations for those who require in-person assistance, such as those with disabilities or those who require language interpretation assistance.
Over 5,500 New Mexicans requested absentee ballots as of the afternoon of Wednesday March 25, according to the Secretary of State’s office. That is after her office opened the state’s absentee ballot portal on March 20.
The launch of the online portal came a month earlier than normal for the June 2 primary elections. New Mexico offers “no-excuse” absentee voting, which means any eligible voter can vote by absentee just by requesting a ballot. Some states don’t have any absentee voting, while others only allow voters to request absentee ballots for certain reasons. The online portal for absentee ballots only began in 2018, so there is not a direct comparison for the numbers this year, in a presidential election year, which has higher turnout than elections without a presidential race on the ballot.
At this point, the state of New Mexico is planning on conducting its primary elections in June as originally planned. That’s what Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report Tuesday, even as other states delayed their primaries over fears related to COVID-19, a disease caused by a coronavirus. In fact, changing the election date would require changing the state law. Toulouse Oliver said weeks ago, she was conducting interviews with people lamenting New Mexico’s late primaries. Now, “it’s a tremendous advantage that we have plenty of time to plan and handle this situation,” she said.