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.
The NM Senate approved on Thursday SB 43 which makes the act of intimidating election officials a fourth degree felony. The bill was approved on a 38-0 vote and now the bill goes to the House for committee approval. “Under our current law, if someone seeks to intimidate a voter or challenger or watcher at the polls, by threatening force or violence or economic retaliation for the purpose of interfering, interfering with them voting for them, or preventing them from impartial administration of our election code that is a fourth degree felony,” bill sponsor Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, said. “What this bill does is it also extends the same protections to the people who are actually putting our elections on: our election workers, everyone from Secretary of State to county clerks to municipal clerks as well as their employees and agents.”
More:Bill making intimidation of election officials a felony moves to Senate floor
The bill came following threats against election officials in recent elections. “Since the 2020 election, there’s been a sharp uptick in threats of violence against election workers,” Duhigg said.
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.
Justin Allen, a community organizer, was eligible to vote in 2017 but he could not register until his third try, he said. And even at the third try, he required help from another organizer to convince the county clerk to allow him to register. Allen’s story is not unique, he and other community organizers told NM Political Report. Allen was released from prison in 2015. By 2017, he completed his parole and became eligible, per state law, to vote.
The Secretary of State issued an emergency procedure last week that enables those who are sick with COVID-19 or at higher risk due to the illness to be able to cast their ballot despite the fact that the period for requesting an absentee ballot has passed. The guidance also allows for anyone in the state who is confined because of risk, exposure or quarantine order because of the respiratory illness to be able to cast a ballot in the final 24 hours of the election. Alex Curtas, communications director for the Secretary of State’s office, said that if the voter goes through all the steps, they can still cast their ballot Tuesday. He also said the guidance is applicable to voters who have been told by a health care provider that they are at higher risk for COVID-19. Any individual who is sick with the virus or confined because of it or at higher risk of complications can request a provisional paper ballot by submitting a completed GE2020 Emergency Voting Affidavit.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse said she’s hopeful the state will see most of the results from absentee ballots posted on election night, despite the huge surge in absentee ballots requested this year.
New Mexico, unlike some other states, has laws in place to allow counties to begin tabulating absentee ballots days before the election. Counties that sent out more than 10,000 absentee ballots began processing those ballots on Oct. 24. Counties that sent out less than 10,000 absentee ballots can begin processing those ballots starting today.
“We are well underway now across the state with the processing of absentee ballots,” Toulouse Oliver said. “What we’re all hopeful for is that beginning this process as early as possible will enable the County Clerks and their absentee precinct boards to get through the vast majority of those mailed ballots before election night, and those boards are going to continue working to process everything that they have up through Election Day.”
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While absentee ballots can be tabulated in advance, she added, no results can be produced or revealed publicly prior to the close of polls, which is 7 p.m. on election night.
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.
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. Manfra 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.”
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Support New Mexico’s best political coverage. [/perfectpullquote]No other candidate has announced their intention to run. Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, won election in 2016, defeating Republican Nora Espinoza.
The Senate Rules Committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment to establish a state ethics commission, a proposal that has died in the New Mexico Legislature year after year. The measure now moves to the full Senate, where its advocates hope it receives a vote before the legislative session ends at noon Saturday. Note: This story has been updated throughout with more information on the proposed ethics commission. Members of the Rules Committee voted 9-1 to advance House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Rep. Jim Dines, R-Albuquerque. The House last week voted 66-0 for the measure.