A new non-profit “cozy” with the governor’s administration and campaign solicited a foreign-national to register to vote in New Mexico elections and recruited more voters to “renew” their voter registration before the next election, something that is not required under New Mexico law.
This morning, Bernalillo County’s Clerk, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, released a warning to voter this morning saying,
“The County Clerk’s Office has received multiple complaints since early June regarding third-party voter registration agents at a variety of locations across Albuquerque… alleging that these individuals are providing false and misleading information to voters about voter registration requirements and so-called “proxy voting.”
The complaints allege that voter registrars are telling potential voters that in order to vote they must re-register every 2 or every 5 years, depending on the information provided in the complaint. This is not true.
At ProgressNowNM, we’ve identified the pattern as one we’ve seen from New Mexico Competes, a social welfare organization supporting Governor Martinez’s agenda. More below the break.
“Once again – for the fourth time in two years – we’ve caught a conservative operative engaged in improper, and sometimes illegal, activity relating to voter registration. Either they are too flippant with their training or more devious in their purpose, but New Mexico Competes is clearly engaged in improper election work here.
“Our report raises serious questions about the programs New Mexico Competes is running and the training they are providing. We want to know who trained these people and how many other people have they misled?”
– Patrick Davis, ProgressNowNM
An audio tape and transcript of the encounter is included below. Jump to the bottom if you are in a hurry.
New Mexico Competes
First, a little background on New Mexico Competes from the Santa Fe New Mexican:
According to information on the Secretary of State’s website, [New Mexico Competes’] officers and board members include Republican National Committeeman Pat Rogers, former GOP state Sen. Duncan Scott and Rich Beeson, Mitt Romney’s political director in the 2012 presidential campaign…
The group applied for 501c4 social welfare status from the IRS meaning it must maintain a non-partisan, non-profit purpose. But that hasn’t stopped key members of Susana Martinez’s administration and campaign from taking posts at the outfit:
Alexis Valdez Darnell, wife of Gov. Susana Martinez’s deputy chief of staff Scott Darnell, no longer works as the governor’s operations director. Since February, she’s headed a nonprofit “social welfare” group that has run “nonpartisan” ads lauding Martinez and smiting her enemies…
Her predecessor in that job was Sara Lister, who now works for the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. Like Darnell, Lister, a longtime GOP fundraiser, had connections to the Martinez administration. She had worked as a deputy secretary of the state Department of Workforce Solutions.
Martinez hired Alexis Darnell in May 2011 as operations director. That was an exempt position, (which means she served at the pleasure of the governor) with a salary of $75,000.
At the time, her husband was Martinez’s communications director. He was promoted to his current position in December 2012…
An article in National Journal that profiled Martinez’s political consultant, Jay McCleskey quoted Andrea Goff, the former finance director of Martinez’s campaign and of the governor’s Susana PAC, saying that Martinez “specifically told her” that McCleskey was New Mexico Competes. McCleskey repeatedly has denied that he or Martinez have ever had anything to do with the group.
The 501(c)(4) hasn’t been very visible in recent months. I asked Darnell if the group had anything brewing in the near future.
She replied that New Mexico Competes “has and will continue to play an active role in registering voters and educating New Mexicans on important issues related to the economy and education in our state. We do not advocate for or against the election of any public official and we look forward to continuing to engage the people of New Mexico.”
It’s led by Pat Rogers, the former Republican lobbyist who was forced to resign after we shared his comments celebrating General Custer’s murder of Native Americans. It’s also the same group the governor’s former top fundraiser told National Journal is the new non-profit group set up to take donations from the governor’s supporters who don’t want their names publicly listed in campaign finance reports.
Voter Registration Activity Questioned
On Primary Election Day in June, canvassers for our Reducing Marijuana Penalties Campaign spread out across Albuquerque to collect signatures from voters at polling places.
At one polling place in the Northeast Heights, we noticed New Mexico Competes staff conducting voter registration outside the Target store next door (8510 Montgomery NE) so we sent one of our volunteers to ask about their program.
Right away, NM Competes staff asked if he would like to “renew” his registration. Being a French foreign-national, our volunteer explained that he had just arrived in the United States but the NM Competes staff told him would be eligible to vote if he just filled out the form.
Transcript (read the full transcript and listen to the audio below):
[Female Voter Registrar] This is for voter’s registration. do you need to renew yours?
[Volunteer] I just, uh. I just arrived in United States, I don’t know nothing about…
[Male Voter Registrar] Oooh. Do you live here now?
Would you like to fill one out?
What’s it about?
[Male Voter Registrar] Just voting. It’s just your voter’s registration. So you can fill it out, you, yea and you’re eligible to vote.
[Male Voter Registrar] Yep.
Listen to the entire conversation, and read the transcript, below.
After more prompting to fill out the form, the French national wrote down his name and other information. He did not complete the form telling the staffer he did not have his address information since he was new to the country (the volunteer did not want to illegally register to vote).
After, the NM Competes staff gave our volunteer a crash course in American elections. Note to NM Competes: New Mexico only has one governor, we aren’t electing “governors” (plural) this year.
And that’s not all. The NM Competes registration agents gave our volunteers four blank voter registration forms, even though the Secretary of State’s Voter Registrar Guide requires every form to be signed out to an agent and returned to the county clerk.
State law requires the Secretary of State to refer any possible violations of state voter registration laws to the Attorney General. Any person who knowingly violates these laws is guilty of a misdemeanor and any organization which sponsors these activities is subject to fine.
No word if Duran will refer these issues to prosecutors.
This Isn’t the First (or Second, or Third) Time We’ve Uncovered Conservative Shenanigans in New Mexico Voter Registration Activities
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This isn’t the first time Republican-leaning operatives have attempted off-the-wall voter registration schemes in New Mexico. By our count, this is at least the fourth time in two years we’ve caught New Mexico conservative groups engaging in improper (and sometimes illegal) activity relating to voter registration. In case you need a quick primer:
In 2012, we ousted Thomas Tolbert, the man who registered his dog to vote as a Democrat, as the husband of a senior staffer for Republican Heather Wilson’s campaign for US Senate. Tolbert’s case was referred to local prosecutors.
“Man Could be Charged for Registering His Dog to Vote”: Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said what Tolbert did is considered voter fraud, and that’s a fourth-degree felony. The case has been forwarded to the sheriff’s office. – KOAT
That same year, we also cried foul when Republican Johnny Luevano registered to vote at a vacant lot in order to run for a state house seat there.
The Luevano case started in late March when a liberal website, ProgressNow New Mexico, posted a story saying that Luevano didn’t live in District 16 and had voted in at least one election using a Westside address when, the website reported, “he and his family have been comfortably living … in unincorporated Bernalillo County. That’s about 6 miles (as the crow flies) and a 15-minute drive south of the City of Albuquerque district he wants to represent.” – CapitolReportNewMexico, April 2012.
Luevano was later removed from the ballot by a District Court judge.
In October 2012, we conducted a similar undercover check of poll watcher training by another local Tea Party affiliate. We caught Tea Party and Sandoval County Republican Party leader Pat Morlen training Republican poll watchers to turn away Spanish-speaking and handicapped voters from the polls. That story made national news and prompted inquiries from the Attorney General and Congressional Committee on Oversight.
A hidden camera caught Pat Morlen, the vice chair of the Sandoval County Republican Party, instructing volunteer “poll challengers” to demand photo ID and force legal voters to use provisional ballots. The video, filmed by the nonprofit ProgressNow New Mexico, shows vice-chair Morlen making several claims that directly contradict New Mexico law… – ThinkProgress, October 2012
Another GOP Voter Fraud Scandal?
In August 2012, Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran sent postcards to 177,000 legally registered voters telling them that their voter registrations would be cancelled if they did not return the cards or vote in an upcoming election.
The purge was supposed to target only inactive voters, but we tracked down numerous lifelong voters and helped make their story national news after the SOS targeted good voters for purges from the voter rolls.
The Secretary of State’s plan to clean up the voter rolls, which opponents say is a voter purge, is off to a bad start. Not only does a prominent legislator say the move is not permissible by law… but Progress Now New Mexico comes with this:
Among the first to receive a mailer was none other than Santa Fe resident Diane Wood, the Voting Rights Director for Common Cause New Mexico, a non-profit organization working to ensure fair and accurate elections in the state.
However, when Wood checked her voting status there, she found that her status had been changed to “INACTIVE” in this mail purge alongside a list all of the elections she has voted in since 1992, a total of 44. Wood’s most recent vote was just 88 days before she received the notice sent to alleged non-voters.
Wood moved to her current address more than 5 years ago and has voted absentee from there at least 4 times during elections when she was working in other parts of the state protecting others’ right to vote.
Duran since put the purge on hold but the message from New Mexico Competes’ voter registration staff seems to be reviving this “you must re-register in order to vote” message.
If New Mexico Competes comes back at election time and challenges voters who did not “re-register” (whatever that is) they can seriously confuse, and turn away, voters at Election Day.
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[Male NM Competes Registrar] Would you like to sign my petition?
[Female NM Competes Registrar] This is for voter’s registration. do you need to renew yours?
(V) I just, uh. I just arrived in United States, I don’t know nothing about…
[M] Oooh. Do you live here now? Would you like to fill one out?
[V] Yea, what’s it about?
[M] Just voting. It’s just your voter’s registration. So you can fill it out, you, yea and you’re eligible to vote.
So what’s it like to, uh, there’s different parts? Cuz, I see there is voting over there. (Referring to Primary Election Day polling place next door)
[F] So I think that’s more like, New Mexico voting. The big election is November 4th and what happens after you fill this card out is you’ll get your voters registration card in the mail.
(Prompts man to fill out voter registration card, again)
[V] Oh. I come from Paris, I just arrived two days ago.
[M] Oh, Cool. Why did you move down here?
[V] Um, I’m taking my…I’m going to study over there.
[M] At UNM?
[V] No. Not UNM. I just have, like a, summer job here.
[M] Oh, ok.
[V] I moved to, uh, [inaudible] over there… [reading registration form] Gender? Male. Birth date.
[F - to passing woman] Would you like to renew your voter’s registration, ma’am?
[Woman] I don’t need to.
[M] Oh, you don’t?
[V - reading the form, referring to the address box] Um, usually I get it from my pictures on my phone, but I just send all the pictures off my phone, my computer so I don’t have it here.
[M] Unfortunately, if you don’t have it then, they, it won’t count, so. Yea, ok.
[V] So I just start paper for nothing.
[M]1 It’s ok, so next time, if you see one of us again you can just…
[V] Can you just teach me some, some stuff about the different, because I don’t know nothing about the elections here?
(New Mexico Competes’ staff explains the election system in the United States)
[M] Ha, Ha.
[F] So, there’s basically three parties: Republican, Democrat and Independent
[V] Republican, Independent and Democrat? Ok.
[M] And, then uh, the main elections are every four years, you know like presidential elections and all that. The next ones are 2016. I think the voting going on now is more in state, like, so like New Mexico stuff, governors.
[V] So, there’s like, um, parts of the country and parts of the states?
[M] Uh, huh.
[V] Well, why do they have like these papers, speaking about like, how do you say, um…
[M] Who to vote for?
[M] That’s just campaigning, like, just trying to get people to vote for them.
[F] A lot of people that are trying to, be like, for example, like the senator, they are trying to be a senator so there are a lot of people going for it and whoever gets the most votes, so that’s why they are trying to get a lot of people to vote for them.
[V] Ok, so a senator [inaudible] here?
[F] Uh huh.
[V] And so you like support the parts (party)?
[M] I’m just here to register to vote, people who need to vote.
[V] Oh that’s cool. And we have (inaudible, speaking about French elections) in last elections (inaudible). Thank you.
[M] Ok. Thank you.