Santa Fe, NM – It's been eighty years since New Mexico had a Republican secretary of state. That changes next month as State Senator Dianna Duran will be sworn in to the office after handily winning the November election over incumbent Secretary Mary Herrera. Duran is looking ahead to January for other reasons, as well. As KUNM's Jim Williams reports, she's likely to pursue some policy changes on elections and voting that Republicans have been after for years in New Mexico.
Williams: Dianna Duran says she knows that New Mexico Republicans will be watching her very closely as she begins her tenure next month. But it's over perhaps one key issue that they'll be most attentive.
Duran: As I traveled the state, people everywhere around the state of New Mexico regardless of party affiliation, would say to me "why do we not require a photo voter ID when you go to vote at the polls?"
Williams: State law currently allows a number of documents for identification at polling places: bills, bank statements, government checks but it doesn't require photo identification. Duran says she wants to work with legislators and county clerks on the issue. She says she's asked members of her incoming team in the secretary's office to visit with other secretaries of state who have already implemented voter I-D laws.
Duran: that have done it in a way that will not cost the taxpayers millions of dollars, but have done, they've already done the work, they know how it can be done. We know what has happened, the mistakes that they've had in their states, and we know, so basically best practices from other states is what we're looking at.
Williams: Duran will also meet soon with legislators who may want to carry the voter ID bill. One of those lawmakers might well be Republican Representative Larry Larranaga from Albuquerque's northeast heights. He notes that both Duran and incoming Governor Susana Martinez talked about voter ID in their campaigns.
Larranaga: Both ran on a platform that says "we want to have good clean elections, and we want to make sure that everybody who votes is a registered voter and a valid voter out there. And you can't do it any other way other than to have some kind of a way or means to do that. And certainly I think you'll see voter identification as one of the top priorities, and I think it can make it through and get signed by this governor.
Williams: The issue has come up before at the legislature. In 2009, the House Voters and Elections Committee heard from activists like Dona Ana Clerk Joe Martinez.
Martinez: We have found dead people who have voted and reported it to the county clerk's office, only to find the same dead person voting in the current election. Because no identification was required to either register or to vote last year, the number of fictitional names on the voter list was surely grown exponentially.
Williams: Democrats on the Voters and Elections Committee have always vastly outnumbered Republicans last year it was 8 to 5. So measures like the voter ID law have hit a wall there and died. Here's Democratic Representative Ed Sandoval from Albuquerque's west side in that committee in 2009 challenging voter fraud critics to provide evidence.
Sandoval: Simple fact that if these things are truly occurring, they should be more than stories and people coming to us saying "I know that these things happen, so and so told me if that's the case, we should legally pursue these and prosecute em where they should be prosecuted.
Williams: But in the coming legislative session, because Republicans picked up eight seats in the House, the Voters and Elections Committee makeup will be tighter, perhaps just a one-vote advantage for Democrats. And that means bills like photo voter ID have a better chance of making it to the House floor for debate where longtime members like Representative Lucky Varela, a Santa Fe Democrat, will be ready to turn the debate to voters' rights.
Varela: We try to minimize the adversity of going to vote, and I don't know whether we're ready to come up with a picture ID concept of voting. We need to look at the entire election reform to see how we can better facilitate the process so that the public will be more interested in turning out to vote. Look at the turnout. You know, we need to incentivize the general public to go out and vote.
Williams: But on photo voter ID, incoming Secretary of State Dianna Duran also has an argument that centers around voters' rights, from a different angle.
Duran: It will be, hopefully, something that is, that has been researched and something that will include language in there to allow every citizen of New Mexico and every registered voter to be able to show up at the polling place with that photo ID, and it will, I believe, strengthen the election process in New Mexico and it will help us to assure voters that every vote counts.
Williams: Duran says there are other issues that may not require legislative approval. She says she wants to set up a voter fraud division in her office. And she has some election officials around the state, including Santa Fe County Elections Director Denise Lamb, looking at potential changes to the election code. Duran also wants to take a close look at all contracts the state has on elections, especially the voting machine maintenance contract, which has a multimillion dollar price tag that has mostly been passed along to counties. State lawmakers convene in a month for a sixty-day legislative session. For KUNM, I'm Jim Williams.