NM SOS race: A battle to control elections

By Jesse Jones

Across the country, races for secretary of state are attracting more attention than usual this year, as election deniers vie for jobs that oversee elections. New Mexico is no exception.

Republican Audrey Trujillo is challenging incumbent Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver in a contest that demonstrates many of the themes seen nationwide. 

Toulouse Oliver took office after former Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran resigned and served jail time for felony embezzlement and money laundering charges related to a gambling addiction.

Toulouse Oliver is an experienced election administrator who served as Bernalillo County clerk for 10 years and as secretary of state for six years. She is a past president of the National Association of Secretaries of State and led a bipartisan campaign combating election disinformation. 

During her administration, she says, she has modernized New Mexico’s voter registration processes, expanded ballot access, and implemented a more transparent campaign finance system. She has pursued policies that make it easier for people to register and vote, ideas that are broadly popular with the public but criticized by some Republicans as inviting voter fraud.

Toulouse Oliver is endorsed by the Albuquerque Journal, the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Santa Fe Reporter, Planned Parenthood, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, the Sierra Club and others. 

Trujillo is a former political director of the New Mexico chapter of the National Republican Hispanic Assembly and a past PTA president who operated a licensed child daycare center for a decade. She has a master’s degree in public administration from UNM.

Trujillo has been endorsed by high profile Republicans with ties to former President Donald Trump, including Mike Lindell of MyPillow and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Trujillo was a guest on a recent episode of  Steve Bannon’s podcast War Room, during which Trump’s former chief strategist gave her his support. 

She also has the support of U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell, the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of New Mexico and several county sheriffs.

She is a member of the America First Secretary of State Coalition, which has an agenda of requiring voter ID and paper ballots, eliminating mail-in ballots, limiting voting in person to a single day and aggressively cleansing voter rolls. The coalition is described by the liberal MediaMatters.org as having ties to the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.

The Libertarian candidate, Mayna Erika Myers, is a former candidate for magistrate judge in Chavez County and a retail store manager from Hobbs. 

The most recent polling numbers from the Albuquerque Journal show support for the incumbent Toulouse Oliver at 50% while Trujillo is at 35% and Myers has 4%. 

According to the Secretary of State’s office, Maggie Toulouse Oliver has raised $583,204.63 in contributions, while Audrey Trujillo raised $82,033.85. 

The secretary of state’s office oversees campaign finance reporting, lobbyist reporting and maintains records vital to commerce and industry in New Mexico.

Although county clerks run New Mexico elections, the secretary of state supervises and coordinates the process. Certifying elections is one of the tasks that has made headlines lately, but the job also involves maintaining a computerized listing of registered voters, testing and evaluating voting machines and certifying precinct boundary maps.

Trujillo has made headlines for promoting conspiracy theories. For example, in a Dec. 3, 2020 Facebook Live stream, she said “These school shootings, this is all part of an agenda.” She continued: “…We talk about the deep state. We talk about these people that are in charge of all this stuff. The media, you know, these things are happening to push an agenda.”

Trujillo has also shared on Facebook theories that President Biden is a clone or has a body double. The Albuquerque Journal reported that she sent out a tweet linking Jews to COVID-19 vaccine mandates. She claimed that her account was hacked but then said she might have retweeted something without looking at it closely.  

In 2019, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported that as a volunteer Trujillo got in trouble for posting a vulgar meme about New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on the Republican Party of New Mexico’s Facebook page. The state Republican party then permanently revoked her editing privileges. 

Both the Republican party of New Mexico and Trujillo issued apologies to the Governor. After the apology she said, “I totally agree with the meme.”

Wildly differing views of the job

Trujillo says if elected she would seek to restore election integrity. “I feel like we can do a better job and make it more efficient, develop a system where it works for everybody, and stays secure and transparent,” she said.

Trujillo says she definitely agrees with requiring voter identification. A Gallup poll from July showed 79% of Americans favor requiring all voters to provide photo identification at their voting place in order to vote.

Toulouse Oliver is technically running for her third term because she took over as secretary of state when she won a special election.

If re-elected Toulouse Oliver said she would push for a Native American Voting Rights Act, also  continue to push for a Voter Rights bill and a Voter Intimidation and Election Worker Intimidation bill. Both were filibustered in the state Senate last legislative session. 

Toulouse Oliver also said she wants to keep working on illuminating dark money in the campaign finance system. 

During her term, Toulouse Oliver implemented same-day voter registration, opened voting convenience centers and created the Native American Voting task Force. She installed secured and monitored ballot drop-boxes so voters could drop off their absentee ballots. 

The drop boxes have been in the news in Arizona because, according to NPR, armed individuals have been camped out near drop-boxes to “monitor” the people dropping off their absentee ballots. Men in tactical gear followed voters and photographed them and their license plates.

Secretary Toulouse Oliver said there has been no reports of that kind of intimidation here in New Mexico, “but we are on high alert for that kind of activity,” she said. “And, we have response plans in place to deal with anything like that.”

Truth or Consequences 

Toulouse Oliver created a section of the office’s website, Rumor vs. Reality, to document how the government is pushing back against disinformation and lies. 

New Mexico has more than 1,500 Dominion vote tabulators, which have been the source of conspiracy theories among some Republicans. Dominion has filed a $1.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News, alleging its hosts and guests spread lies about the company’s machines.

“The current machines that we have right now, are not certified, because they’re outdated and they’re not certifiable,” Trujillo of the tabulators. 

Independent sources disagree. A KOB4 investigation of election security reported the machines are indeed certified.

Toulouse Oliver recently walked reporters through a tour of the machines in order to dispel misinformation. “The state’s election officials follow federal and state law to certify its voting machines,” the Santa Fe Reporter wrote after viewing the presentation. “The last testing and certification process took place in 2021, via state statute, and is executed by a bipartisan Voting System Certification Committee (read its 2021 report here). All voting systems approved by the federal Election Assistance Commission are currently certified to standards known as the Voluntary Voting System Guidelines (a 2.0 version of those guidelines has been approved by the EAC but not yet implemented anywhere pending laboratory testing).”

Trujillo also argues for more rigorous cleaning of the voter roll, the list of every voter, their address, party affiliation, last time they voted and birthdate. In New Mexico, the voter roll is public information, but until recently if someone wanted to get access to it, they would have to fill out an affidavit saying they would not be using the information for sinister reasons. 

In July, US District Judge James Browning ruled that the website VoteRef.com could continue to post the name, address and party affiliation of every registered voter in New Mexico on its website. The ruling was a blow to  Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas who opposed the data being released because they feared it may be used for voter intimidation.

The ruling was a victory for conservatives who want more transparency to clean the voter rolls. The hope is that concerned citizens will help comb through the lists of names and find deceased or people who have moved out of state to eliminate voter fraud. 

The purging of voter rolls is an “often-flawed process” that can “knock eligible voters off the roll en masse, often with little notice,” according to the Brennan Center for Justice. The highest rates of voter purges are in states with a history of voting discrimination, the center noted.
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