ICYMI: Democrats question scope of review
Submitted by J. Dyrcz on 20 June 2011 - 11:01am
SANTA FE - Democrats on a legislative committee made Secretary of State Dianna Duran the butt of jokes and criticism Friday, saying she had mishandled an investigation into voter fraud.
Duran, a Republican, has forwarded 64,000 voter records to state police so its investigators can help determine whether any laws were broken.
Those under investigation account for about 5 percent of New Mexico's 1.16 million registered voters.
State Sen. Cisco McSorley, D-Albuquerque, told fellow members of the Courts, Corrections and Justice Committee that the massive scope of Duran's investigation shocked him. He questioned her logic and her tactics.
"I sure don't think this is a public-safety issue," McSorley said of Duran's decision to involve police.
He said New Mexico's 33 county clerks, who supervise elections, were "more than capable" of helping Duran determine if any election laws were violated.
Most of all, McSorley said, Duran's decision to call on police to review 64,000 records was a bad use of valuable resources.
"I cannot remember one documented case of voter fraud," he said.
Neither could anybody else on the committee.
Duran, in an earlier interview, said she felt obligated to turn over to police the cases that she considered "questionable" or that needed "further review."
Her staff began checking voter records in March. At that juncture, Duran told state legislators that she had suspicions about 37 voters.
Red flags were raised, she said, when her staff compared voter registration rolls to the state driver's license records of foreign nationals. Illegal immigrants can obtain a New Mexico driver's license, but cannot vote because they are not U.S. citizens.
But the so-called foreign national database includes many people who indeed are U.S. citizens. Years ago, they may have obtained their driver's licenses with passports rather than Social Security cards, so they landed in the foreign database.
Duran would not say how her investigation had ballooned from 37 cases to tens of thousands, but legislators said they think they know.
State Rep. Antonio Maestas, D-Albuquerque, said small variations of voters' names or initials probably would explain almost all 64,000 cases.
Maestas even predicted that he was on Duran's list of suspicious voters. The reason, he said, was that he had generally stopped using his given first name of Antonio in favor of his nickname of "Moe" Maestas.
State Sen. Clint Harden, R-Clovis, agreed that many voters' names vary slightly from one piece of identification to another. To demonstrate his point, Harden pulled out his driver's license, concealed-carry permit, credit card and voter identification card. Some identify him as a "junior" but others do not, he said.
Sen. Mary Jane Garcia, D-Do a Ana, said Duran's maneuver reminded her of a voter investigation that targeted Democrats during the administration of former Republican governor Gary Johnson.
"It got laughed out of court," Garcia said.
McSorley suggested that the committee might want to call Duran and Gorden Eden, secretary of the Department of Public Safety, to shed light on why they handled the cases this way.
One Republican on the 17-member committee, Rep. Thomas Anderson of Albuquerque, publicly supported Duran for launching the investigation.
"The secretary of state was handed a problem that wasn't of her making," he said of apparent discrepancies in voter identifications. "We should not criticize her for that part of her effort."
If the investigation finds fraud in even 1 percent of the cases, that would be substantial wrongdoing involving 640 people, Anderson said.
Former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, a Republican, spent more than a year looking into voter fraud allegations in New Mexico. In the end, Iglesias said, he had not a single case to prosecute.