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.
Legislation that aims to update the state’s Election Code passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 6-4 vote on Saturday. SB 180 requests an update the state’s Election Code including specifying when the Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA, can be used for election information, allowing electronic nominating petition signatures, creating an election security program, requiring training for election challengers and watchers, revising requirements for the impoundment of ballots, audits, voting machine rechecks and recounts, revising election-related crimes and authorizing taxpayer information to be revealed to the secretary of state for purposes of maintaining voter registration records. More: Election code update passes Senate
The bill was discussed but not voted on during a Friday afternoon HJC meeting with discussion continuing during the Saturday, March 11 meeting. “These changes are absolutely necessary for the conduct of elections,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said. The bill is similar to the Voting Rights Act, HB 4, which is a policy bill while SB 180 is a technical bill, Toulouse Oliver said.
A bill that makes intimidating election officials a felony passed in the House Judiciary Committee on a 10-0 vote. SB 43 would expand the state Election Code’s scope by making it a fourth-degree felony to intimidate election workers such as poll workers and county clerks and other election employees. “Under current law, if someone is a voter or a watcher or a challenger, and someone seeks to intimidate them, tries to induce fear using threatened use of force, violence, infliction of harm or loss or any form of economic retaliation for the purpose of impeding their free elective franchise or the impartial administration of the electric code that is a fourth degree felony,” bill sponsor Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, said. “What this bill does is it extends those same protections to the people who are actually running our elections: the Secretary of State’s office, their employees and agents, or county clerks, or municipal clerks and their employees and agents.”
More: Bill making intimidation of election officials a felony moves to Senate floor
The bill’s origin comes from a wave of threats of violence against election workers, including threats to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
The bill passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 16.
The state Senate approved a bill seeking to update the state election code on a 23-13, party-line vote. SB 180 seeks to update the state’s Election Code including, but not limited to, specifying when the Inspection of Public Records Act, or IPRA, can be used in election-based disclosures, allowing electronic nominating petition signatures, creating an election security program, requiring training for election challengers and watchers, revising requirements for the impoundment of ballots, audits, voting machine rechecks and recounts, revising election-related crimes and authorizing taxpayer information to be revealed to the secretary of state for purposes of maintaining voter registration records. “This is a bill that should look very familiar to this body because we’ve seen it for three years now,” Duhigg said. “SB180 is simply a pared down version of last year’s rendition, which was SB 6, which passed this body unanimously… But all of the changes that are in this bill, are borne from actual experiences that our election administrators have been navigating. Many of them have already been bug tested.”
Many of the bill’s provisions were activated on a temporary basis during the 2020 election due to the COVID-19 public health crisis.
The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee approved a bill on Wednesday that would update the state election code. The bill passed on a party line 6-3 vote with the three Republicans on the committee voting against the bill. HB 4 would add automatic voter registration, restore a released felon’s right to vote, create a voluntary permanent absentee voter and add voting protections and improved access for Native Americans. It also makes general or local election days school holidays and allows counties to apply for more secured ballot boxes. The committee rolled over HB 4 during the Friday meeting last week due to time constraints after hearing public comment.
In some ways, the New Mexico Legislature operates the same way it did at statehood more than a century ago. The legislative session itself is the shortest in the nation and New Mexican legislators are the only ones not paid for the job of to producing, debating and approving legislation. One of the organizations behind the movement to update the legislative session for modern times is Common Cause, which hopes to have a state constitutional amendment placed on the ballot that would extend the session and add a five day recess after 30 days that would not count against the session’s active days. Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Mario Jimenez, III spoke to New Mexico Political Report about this and other issues the organization is pursuing. “We often see legislation that is hastily run, and we often have to come back and fix those in future legislation because of a few things that the legislature may have missed over some conflicts within other sections of law or sections of the Constitution,” Jimenez said.
The two state legislature recounts were completed earlier this month and showed no change to the outcomes. The state canvassing board met Wednesday morning where it certified the recount results for State House districts 32 and 68. “There were, importantly, no changes in the outcome of the contests from our original certification,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said at the state canvassing board meeting.
The certifications mean Democrats will hold a 45-25 advantage in the chamber in the 2023 legislative session next month. The recounts were for State House District 32 between Democratic incumbent Candie Sweetser and Republican challenger Jennifer Marie Jones and State Rep. Dist. 68 between Republican candidate Robert Henry Moss and Democratic candidate Charlotte L. Little.
Jones won the District 32 house seat with 3,789 votes to Sweetser’s 3,743 votes and the District 68 house seat went to Little with 5,651 votes to Moss’ 5,616.
The New Mexico State Canvassing Board certified the 2022 General Election at their Nov. 29 meeting. The election results were certified after a third-party auditor declared no findings and the election results were sent to the canvassing board for certification. “Our office worked closely with our county clerks across the state of both political parties to ensure we all had the information and the tools necessary to conduct a successful election,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver said. “This was absolutely a team effort.”
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the incumbent who has been in office since 2016, won her seat easily according to unofficial results as of 10:45 p.m.. Her primary opponent, Republican Audrey Trujillo, trailed by 15 points. Libertarian candidate Mayna Erika Myers received less than five percent of the vote. Toulouse Oliver carried the majority of votes in the state’s most populous counties – Santa Fe, Bernalillo and Doña Ana counties but Trujillo carried many rural counties, including Eddy, Chaves, Curry, Lea, Quay and Union counties. But Toulouse Oliver carried some traditionally Democratic rural counties, including Grant and McKinley.
Vice President Kamala Harris said during an event in New Mexico on Tuesday that the fight around reproductive rights in the United States will affect women all over the world. Harris stopped in Albuquerque to talk with Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and University of New Mexico Professor and Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Family Planning Fellowship Director Dr. Eve Espey about protecting reproductive rights. The moderated discussion took place in front of a packed house of about 250 people at the University of New Mexico’s Keller Hall in the Center for the Arts and Arts Museum. Harris said people around the world watch what is happening politically in the U.S. She said former German Chancellor Angela Merkel leaned over during a conversation about Russia and China and asked Harris about what is happening with voting rights in the U.S.
“My fear on this issue is that dictators around the world will say to their people who are fighting for rights, ‘you want to hold out America as the example?’ Look at what they just did; be quiet,’” she said. “I highlight the significance of this moment and the impact, which not only directly impacts the people of our nation but very likely impacts people around the world.”
Harris highlighted her mother’s career, saying that her mother was one of the very few women of color researching breast cancer in her era.