How much voter fraud actually exists and what should the top elections official in the state do about it?
The questions are defining the secretary of state's race that will be decided in the Nov. 4 general election, where Republican incumbent Dianna Duran faces a Democratic challenger Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
"A huge difference between my opponent and me is that I believe everyone's vote should count, and no New Mexican should be disenfranchised—not even one time," Duran's campaign said in a written statement sent to reporters last week. "My opponent believes voter fraud has to be 'widespread'— a term she uses over and over. It isn't true that it has to be widespread—it should never occur."
Toulouse-Oliver replied that it's ironic her opponent "clearly doesn't understand the concept of enfranchisement versus disenfranchisement," which occurs when an "otherwise eligible person is unable to cast their ballot." "I am certainly not arguing that any kind of voter fraud is okay," says Toulouse Oliver, the Bernalillo County clerk. "What I am simply trying to argue is that voter fraud happens so rarely that it doesn't necessitate the draconian measures that the secretary of state is proposing."
Duran wants to see state law that requires voters to show a photo identification card like a drivers license at the polls. Toulouse Oliver opposes that idea, saying that it would prevent many eligible voters from casting ballots. Right now, only voters registering for the first time in New Mexico must present with the registration a copy of a valid photo identification, however they can also provide identification that doesn't bear a photo identification, like a utility statement or paycheck.
Duran maintains that implementing voter ID laws is "one of the means of securing your vote—making sure your vote is not stolen by someone else." Toulouse Oliver calls the policy "a solution in search of a problem" and cites an investigation of cases of in-person voter impersonation by Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles who previously studied voting issues for the New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice.
The investigation found 31 incidents of so-called in-person voter fraud, described as people showing up at the polls and voting under another identity. That's the type of voter fraud that a voter ID law would prevent. Levitt maintains that from 2000 to 2014, in general, primary, special and municipal elections across the country, he's identified minimal "specific and credible allegations" of in-person voter identification in over 1 billion votes cast.
"I can't even come up with enough funny sounding metaphors," says Toulouse Oliver on the statistical odds of in-person voter fraud occurring in an election. "You know, more people are gored by rhinoceros this year." Duran's campaign blasted Toulouse Oliver for using the study, saying in a release sent to reporters that the Levitt's "so-called" study "doesn't even list the City of Sunland Park in which 21 individuals were identified in the 2012 municipal election, with indictments for 'false voting,' 'elector registration offenses,' 'falsifying an election document,' and yes, 'conspiracy to engage in voter fraud.'"
"Sunland Park alone would nearly double what this so-called study identifies," says Duran. "The fact such obvious oversights occur regarding New Mexico—and with New Mexico only having 6/10ths of 1 percent of the US population—calls all the claims of the study into serious question." Levitt disagrees.
"None of them belong on my list of 31, because none of them are designed to be prevented by an rule requiring ID at the polls," he writes to SFR, referring to the Sunland Park cases of voter fraud. "Those individuals abusing the absentee system would not have been stopped in any way by a rule requiring ID at the polls…What Secretary Duran identifies is a problem. What she does not identify is a problem designed to be stopped by ID rules at the polls, which is the only thing I purported to analyze in the cited piece."
Voter ID laws could adversely affect certain demographic groups including the elderly, college students and the poor, says Denise Lamb, a retired state Elections Bureau chief.
Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar tells SFR she's only aware of two cases of voter fraud in her jurisdiction: one where a woman voted for her dead brother and where a father voted for his son. Both cases occurred under the previous administration, she says.