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Tune out bogus claims of rampant voter fraud

Walt Rubel

Commentary: Republican lawmakers in New Mexico have alleged for years that our elections are plagued by massive voter fraud. They finally had their chance to prove it in 2011, with Susana Martinez as governor and Dianna Duran as secretary of state.

Duran was the first Republican secretary of state since E.A.Perrault in 1929. And, she came into office bound and determined to prove that claims of rampant voter fraud were real.

Enlisting the help of the State Police, they combed through seven years of voter registration records, from 2003 to 2010, and matched them against records for driver’s licenses. During a legislative committee meeting in 2011, Duran announced they had found 117 people who had used foreign credentials to obtain a driver’s license, and were also registered to vote.

Further investigation showed the vast majority of those on the list never actually voted. For the 19 who allegedly did, there was not enough information to conclusively prove voter fraud. Even if they did vote illegally, it’s 19 votes over seven years. Duran must have hoped for better than that when she set out on her laborious task.

We should keep that history in mind in the coming weeks as the Legislature considers a slew of election reforms proposed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Tolouise Oliver. GOP lawmakers will undoubtedly oppose the plan by citing voter fraud claims they have never been able to prove.

But that doesn’t mean everything in the proposal is a good idea.

The plan would restore the option for a straight-party ballot, where voters can choose all Republicans or all Democrats by filling in one bubble. We should make it easier to vote, but not so easy that it’s mindless.

This has nothing to do with voter suppression and everything to do with gaining a partisan advantage - not just Democrats over Republicans, but also both major parties over any third-party candidate, who would never get considered.

The plan to let 16-year-olds vote would also appear to be more for partisan advantage than addressing any problem. It would put us out of step with federal election laws and bring a slew of new voters into the system with limited life experiences.

But, there are also some terrific proposals in the plan. Making election day a state holiday and extending early voting would allow more voters who work odd hours to participate. Expanding access and deadlines for mail-in ballots and making it easier for eligible voters to register would increase turnout without jeopardizing election security.

The plan would also restore the voting rights of convicted felons who are no longer incarcerated. Those who have completed their sentence should be allowed to fully rejoin and participate in our society.

It would be great if each proposal was voted on individually, but that’s not how it usually works. I suspect this will all get lumped into one big bill.

My hope is that there will be vigorous debate in the committee process, and the more obviously partisan proposals are stripped out of the bill. Republican lawmakers will be part of that process, and their legitimate concerns over things like the security of mail-in ballots must be addressed.

But when they start talking about all the rampant voter fraud that has taken place in New Mexico elections, we can tune that out, knowing that when they had the chance to prove their case, they couldn’t.

Walter Rubel can be reached at waltrubel@gmail.com