Monday, October 15, 2012

Roundhouse Roundup: Fountains of Misinformation

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican 
Oct. 14, 2012

Attorney General Gary King announced last week that he’s investigating a Republican poll-challenger training workshop in Albuquerque where a GOP official leading the session was caught on video telling challengers false information about voter identification.

Among the false information, caught on video by the progressive political action committee Progress Now New Mexico, was the contention that voters can be required to show a physical form of ID if two polling-place officials from different political parties request it.

Another wrongheaded notion spread at the event that anyone who is on a list of “inactive voters” from the polls would have to vote on provisional ballots. This has to do with postcards mailed by the secretary of state this summer to start the lengthy process of removing inactive voters. The cards were mailed to nearly 178,000 registered voters in the state. However, despite what anyone might have heard at this training event, all those “inactive voters” will be be able to vote on a regular ballot, just like real people.

I’m glad that King is investigating this. Spreading false information about voting just isn’t right. Whether or not this was criminal I’ll leave to the proper authorities to decide. (The state Republican Party has said they didn’t organize that training session and is looking into the matter.)

But Republicans aren’t the only ones who have disseminated misleading information about Secretary of State Dianna Duran’s infamous “postcard purge.”

Last month at the State Fair, I was approached by a young woman in front of a Democratic Party-affiliated booth. She asked whether I wanted to register to vote. I smiled and told her I’d been registered for 40 years.

“Well you’d better vote this time or you’ll be purged,” she said. Sure enough, her mistake was rooted in a misunderstanding about Duran’s much-maligned postcards and the weird notion that the secretary of state was labeling everyone “inactive” in order to suppress the vote.

I told her what Duran had told me in an interview — information I later verified by a voting official not affiliated with Duran or the Republican Party.

No names will be removed until after the 2014 election, Duran told me. Just because someone currently is listed as “inactive” doesn’t mean they can’t vote. Anyone who fills out the postcards and returns them to the Secretary of State’s Office won’t be purged. But you don’t even have to do that. Anyone who votes in any election between now and 2014 will not be put on any purge list.

I told the woman at the fair that purging voters is a lengthy bureaucratic process — not done by Duran or her office, but by boards of registration appointed by each of the 33 county commissions in the state.

SOS Dianna Duran
Duran and her postcard collecttion
I don’t think she believed me.

Before all my Democratic readers start squealing “False equivalency!” I know this encounter isn’t at the same level of the Republican workshop. I’m not calling for an AG investigation. At least the young woman at the fair was trying to scare me into voting — not trying to stop me from voting. She was just one volunteer repeating some false hearsay.

There’s no evidence that she was officially trained to spread this bit of misinformation. But the implication that Duran inaccurately labeled innocent people “inactive” voters so that she can remove them from the rolls has been repeated in Democratic circles so much in recent weeks, it’s practically party line.

Granted, Duran helped set herself up for such suspicion last year by her much ballyhooed investigation of noncitizens registering to vote (which revealed that only 19 noncitizens have voted in recent years and a good number of those apparently were registered by mistake). But I still say she’s gotten a bum rap on the “postcard purge.”

Why do I have this rotten feeling that if this turns out to be a close election, if the Democrats win, Republicans will scream,“Voter fraud!” and if it goes the other way, Dems will cry, “Voter suppression!”