Last week, New Mexico Secretary of State Diana Duran released a November 16, 2011 “interim progress report” summarizing previous findings by her office raising issues with New Mexico’s voter registration database. Like her earlier testimony last March, in which she refused to release the underlying data for her claims, this interim report by Secretary Duran is vague on details and methodology, and it lacks citations. As a result, confirming or investigating the claims and conclusions of the report is nearly impossible. But based upon the findings of the interim report, problems with New Mexico’s voter registration systems appear to be a result of how the Secretary of State manages the voter registration lists and identifies errors. The report doesn’t demonstrate any clear evidence of intent to commit fraud.
In March 2011, Duran appeared at a hearing on “no-photo, no-vote” voter ID legislation claiming, among other things, that her office matched 117 voter registrations to people who had used foreign-national credentials to obtain driver’s licenses. In the newly-released interim report, Secretary Duran focused on the 117 people that her office found on both lists. The report identifies 85 individuals without any voting history and 13 individuals that lacked sufficient identifying information for her office to determine whether they were the same person that appeared on both lists. That leaves 19 people with the same name who appeared on both lists and who voted at some point following their registration.
Of the 19 voters who appeared on both the voter registration list and the foreign-national credentialed driver’s license list, Secretary Duran’s office identified nine people who voted prior to applying for a driver’s license using foreign national documentation. Secretary Duran does not, however, provide information on how she matched those nine persons between the lists. Given a large enough pool, a matching name and birthdate are not enough to ensure that it is the same person on both lists – at least not without using unique identifying numbers on both lists, which she did not do. Moreover, even an address check cannot avoid problems with duplication of name, missing suffixes or prefixes, or even errors in the pollbooks. For the remaining 10 voters who Secretary Duran identified as registered to vote and who voted sometime after obtaining a driver’s license with foreign-national credentials, it is important to note that in the initial review of the voter file, Secretary Duran compared voting records between 2003 and 2010. During that same period 13,205 New Mexico residents became U.S. citizens.The potential for overlap here is not accounted for in her allegations.
From the analysis the Secretary of State has presented, there have been a number of problems at the different levels of administration that handle voter registration forms. One of the complaints from the Secretary is the use of “dummy” social security numbers, as their system will not accept an application without a social security number and so some officials used other numbers and added zeros to override that feature. Correcting this problem would be a clear first step towards preventing further confusion in the state’s voting rolls. The Secretary blames provisions of the NVRA for encouraging non-citizens to register to vote by offering them a registration form at the DMV and when applying for public benefits. Both requirements have proven to be highly successful measures that have increased access to voter registration among eligible American citizens. If New Mexico can devise and follow more effective protocols for registering new voters, then people registering who are not eligible will not be an issue.
There are many ways that the processing of voter registrations can be improved, including modernizing voter registration to limit clerical and data errors that are common and allowing more shared information between state and election offices. By allowing less opportunity for administrative error, making voter registration rules and procedures clearer, implementing safeguards, and properly adding voters to the voter file, the types of problems identified by Secretary Duran’s interim report will be minimized. Secretary Duran has self-identified a number of areas where her office can help tighten up procedures, make forms and signage more clear for citizens and non-citizens alike, and eliminate problems with list maintenance. The practice of holding up unrelated allegations of voter fraud, vilifying non-citizens, and creating unnecessary work for law enforcement is not responsible policy-making – it’s rabble-rousing and it’s bad governance.
Secretary Duran has clearly identified multiple areas where her office can implement new policies, procedures and practices that would vastly improve the administration of New Mexico’s elections without imposing any new, unnecessary burdens on voters.