Protecting the Vote

A Q & A with Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver

In the last six months alone, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has gone to court to force the Otero County Commission to certify its 2022 primary election results; to the FBI to report threats to her own safety; and to Congress to testify about the threats misinformation poses to US elections. SFR spoke with Toulouse Oliver about these issues. The interview has been edited for concision and clarity.

SFR: Republicans have been the primary mover of various false election conspiracy theories since the 2020 election. As a Democrat, do you have an argument to make about yourself to a Republican voter?

MTO: Absolutely. Because first and foremost, it’s not all Republicans that believe or ascribe to the Big Lie. We’re talking about a vocal subset of the population. A lot of the folks who are election deniers aren’t even necessarily Republicans. What they really have in common is just the sort of diehard belief based on zero evidence that Donald Trump actually won the 2020 election. I want to appeal to Republicans and all voters based on my record of running fair and accurate elections. It’s not as though Republicans haven’t won elections under my tenure.

Did you see the seeds of these attacks on voting prior to 2020?

For a long time, the biggest sort of issues I dealt with in terms of…pre-election denialism really had to do with this concept of voter fraud, particularly in-person voter fraud. There’s always been this element of claiming it’s this massive problem when there’s almost zero evidence to suggest that it is. But in New Mexico…those false claims really never went anywhere, and they were pretty limited. This, needless to say, is sort of that on steroids.

What are your expectations going into the Nov. 8 general election?

Other than I’m sure there are going to be threats, I don’t have any because I feel like every month, post-2020, we’re sort of out in uncharted waters in terms of what to expect and what it’s going to look like. We are working very hard with our state and federal law enforcement partners [and] my office has undertaken a number of steps and measures to make sure we are all safe.

What has it been like for you, personally, being on the front line?

It’s surreal. It’s just so unbelievable to me that something so blatantly false has had the impact that it has. And that so many people are just so unhappy with the outcome of the election that it has really brought what I consider to be a major threat to our democracy forward. For me, personally, it’s been hard; it’s been really challenging. Between Jan. 6 and when I had to make the decision to run again…I had to really take time with that [decision] because the impacts to my mental health, the challenges that I’ve had to go through to keep myself safe…being separated from my 13-year-old son, in some cases, because it was safer for him to be elsewhere. I had to kind of go like, ‘Is it time for me to pass the torch and go down a new career path that is better for my mental health and my physical safety?’ But I decided that there’s just too much at stake and it’s so much greater and bigger than me personally, that I felt like it was absolutely critical that I run again and try to continue the legacy of the work over the next four years. My therapist is on speed dial.

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