In a debate characterized by a negative tone not unlike the recent showdowns between presidential candidates, both candidates for New Mexico Secretary of State laid out their visions for the office. Democratic candidate and current Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver started by invoking the only reason the office is up for grabs this year in the first place. “We had a secretary of state who violated the very laws and ethics that she was charged with upholding,” Toulouse Oliver said. “I’m running to restore integrity, transparency and trust in the Secretary of State’s office.”
Former Secretary of State Dianna Duran, a Republican who beat Toulouse Oliver in the election for the office two years ago, last year pleaded guilty to using her campaign funds to fuel a gambling habit. Duran, a Republican, resigned from office, spent 30 days in jail and is currently on five years of probation.
More than 25,000 New Mexicans either registered to vote or updated their voter registration online this Monday and Tuesday, the final two days for New Mexicans to register to vote for this November’s elections. On Oct. 10, 14,237 New Mexicans registered or updated their voter registrations online. On Oct. 11, the final day of registration, 11,552 New Mexicans registered or updated their voter registrations online, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
The 2016 general election is here in New Mexico. Today is the first day of early voting in some locations and is also the final day to register to vote for the general election. Those who have not yet registered or need to update their registration can do so through the Secretary of State’s website, provided they have a driver’s license number or state identification number, through midnight or can send in a paper form through the mail. Through the mail, proofs of residency can include a utility bill, a paycheck, a student identification number, or a number of other documents. Meanwhile, registered voters can vote early in-person or apply for absentee ballots beginning today.
A national Republican group highlighted four high priority state races in the upcoming elections. The Republican State Leadership Committee put four New Mexico races in their “16 in ‘16: Races to Watch” list earlier this week, including the high-profile Secretary of State race. Outside of the presidential race, election to replace Dianna Duran as Secretary of State is the lone statewide non-judicial race this fall. That race pits Republican State Representative Nora Espinoza against Democratic Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver. The other three races on the list are legislative races.
There’s plenty of imperfection and discrepancy when it comes to trying to figure out campaign finance data in New Mexico. A year ago, New Mexico In Depth reported how lobbyist contributions helped Republicans win the state House for the first time in 60 years. But NMID also pointed out that candidates don’t always report those contributions consistently. KOB-TV did a series outlining such discrepancies in campaign contribution reports by legislative leaders last November. The Secretary of State’s office clarified reporting requirements for lobbyists, and the Legislature passed a law aimed at improving reporting.
The Secretary of State’s office can’t pay the penalty after being unable to comply with an open records law related to allegations of voter fraud. Now, after another appeal lost by the Secretary of State, the tab is nearly $125,000 and Secretary of State Brad Winter says they can’t pay up. That news comes from a report in the Albuquerque Journal. The penalty for violating the state law dates back to Dianna Duran’s time as Secretary of State and a 2011 assertion that voter fraud was rampant in New Mexico. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico sought the documents from Duran’s office to back up the allegations but never received any.
Republican vice presidential nominee Mike Pence spent his Tuesday Albuquerque town hall defending the character of his party’s controversial presidential nominee in wake of constant negative headlines. So did a few other local Republicans who spoke at the event, including Congressman Steve Pearce and State House Majority Whip Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas. Pearce said he was won over during the Republican National Convention with a few “dramatic revelations of the character of Donald Trump.”
Among them was Trump’s “disarming and revealing” words about his evangelical Christian supporters. “He said, ‘I’m getting support from the evangelicals and I’m not sure I deserve it,’” Pearce said. “That’s what I am looking for in politicians who will be transparent.”
The months leading up to the general election show an increasing number of voters in New Mexico aligning themselves with a political party in the state rather than registering as independents. Democrats account for roughly half of registered voters, according to data from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office. The other half splits among Republicans, minor parties and those who decline to state an affiliation. But since January the number of registered Democrats spiked by about five percentage points and the number of registered Republicans increased by roughly 4 percentage points. Minor parties also saw an increase in voter registration since the beginning of the year.
A former Bernalillo County commission candidate is accusing a political action committee that advertised against him of not disclosing the bulk of its funding in time to meet state guidelines. Adrián Pedroza, a community organizer who in June lost a Democratic primary bid for an open county commission seat, filed a campaign ethics complaint against New Mexico for New Mexicans PAC last week. The complaint, filed with the Secretary of State’s Office, alleges that the PAC violated state law by not properly disclosing nearly $35,000 of its funding until one month after the June 7 primary election. That money, the vast majority of which came from Western Albuquerque Land Holdings, encompassed more than half of the PAC’s $64,500 in donations during the election cycle. “It’s really about maintaining the integrity of the election and voters knowing whose contribution went to what and for what reasons,” Pedroza’s campaign manager Neri Holguin said in an interview.
The Secretary of State’s office fixed a problem in the state’s troubled campaign finance reporting system. NM Political Report confirmed the fix with a spokesman in the office on Thursday. SOS spokesman Ken Ortiz said the problems came in a rarely used part of the website and said it was, indeed, one that no one in the office had used. He said the problems had been fixed before work hours on Thursday. The problem in the coding caused it to appear on one section of the system that the candidate failed to list the required “purpose” for each of their campaign purchases.