Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Roundhouse Roundup: SOS Won't Release Alleged Voter-Fraud Documents

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
April 7, 2011

Secretary of State Dianna Duran made a startling announcement last month during a legislative hearing on whether voters should be required to show photo identification at the polls.

SOS Dianna Duran
Duran said in cross-checking voter registrations with a state Motor Vehicle Division database, her office had found 117 foreign nationals who had registered to vote. All listed Social Security numbers on their voter registrations that didn’t match up with their names. What’s more, Duran said, at least 37 of those people had actually voted in state elections.

So who are these people who might have committed voter fraud?

The secretary of state won’t say.

The day after that hearing, I submitted a request to Duran’s office under the state Inspection of Public Records Act for copies of the 117 voter registrations, plus any records she had that indicated 37 of those people had voted.

After the 15-day response deadline allowed under the law, I was notified last week that my request was denied.

Citing state and federal privacy laws relating to MVD records, Secretary of State’s Office records custodian Christiana Sanchez wrote, “Based upon advisement of our legal counsel, the records are prohibited from release.

“Moreover, the Secretary of State’s Office does not maintain the original voter registration forms for registered voters,” the denial letter stated. “The original forms are maintained by the county clerks in each county. There are approximately 1.16 million registered voters in the state of New Mexico. Therefore, while we anticipate a future comprehensive review of voter registration forms, we cannot provide copies of any voter registration forms that meet your requested criteria at this time.”

Of course I hadn’t asked to see all 1.16 million forms, just the 117 she talked about at the legislative hearing. And I would have settled for only those for the 37 apparently illicit voters.

Out of the FOG: As I often do in such situations, I sought advice from the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. Executive Director Sarah Welsh told me, “The SOS may not maintain the original voter registration forms, but if they received copies of forms (or the same information in some other format) from the county clerks, those records would now be SOS records subject to IPRA.”

As Welsh explained it, the Inspection of Public Records Act defines “public records” as materials that are “used, created, received, maintained or held by or on behalf of any public body and relate to public business.”
Therefore, Welsh said, if Duran’s office received and is holding voter-registration forms, and the forms aren’t subject to other confidentiality provisions, the documents should be released.

I asked the secretary of state about that but hadn’t gotten a response as of Wednesday evening.

I’m not the Lone Ranger: I’m not the only one who requested documents pertaining to Duran’s voter-fraud allegations. The American Civil Liberties Union made a far more sweeping request for documents from both the Secretary of State’s Office and the Governor’s Office the same day I made my request.

But according to the Clearly New Mexico blog — which is a project of the left-leaning Center for Civic Policy — the ACLU didn’t get much more than I did.

ACLU Executive Director Peter Simonson told the blog that he got a packet of documents from the SOS but nothing so far from the governor. The documents he received from Duran were so heavily redacted, he said, “they don’t allow us to make any determination.”

A March 15 news release from the Secretary of State’s Office about the alleged 37 vote-fraud perpetrators said, “These are still under investigation to verify the accuracy of the information.”

At this point, it’s still unknown whether any of that information has been verified.