Bernalillo County Clerk Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver is running become New Mexico’s next Secretary of State.
Oliver sat down for a conversation with Gwyneth Doland, as part of KUNM’s special election overage with New Mexico PBS. Her Republican opponent, state lawmaker Nora Espinoza declined multiple interview requests.
DOLAND: You have been the Bernalillo County Clerk for just about ten years now. What do you consider your accomplishment?
OLIVER: It’s hard to narrow it down. I think overall, I am proud we have really brought Bernalillo County from quite frankly a county that sort of struggled with getting elections right for quite awhile to being a county that’s looked upon around the country as a model for modernizing elections, improving the election process, and expanding access to the ballot. So, on the whole I am really proud of that work. Of course, there are a lot of specific individual things that we’ve done.
DOLAND: Tell us about one of them.
OLIVER: Well, for example, we’ve completely revamped poll worker training. I know that sounds a little simplistic. But the way we educate our poll workers—train them, we divide their responsibilities up, and make sure they are aware of the specifics of their particular job on Election Day. We really drill down to the finer points and make sure they are very well versed on those responsibilities, and that really helps them to do a better job on Election Day, and run a better election for all the voters in Bernalillo County.
DOLAND: Straight party voting has been an issue here. Nearly half of the people who voted in the 2010 general election chose to just push that one button, it was buttons back then, and vote for every Democrat or every Republican on ballot.
Now, the last Secretary of State Dianna Duran, eliminated that option saying, no state law required it.
We have a question on this issue from Curtis on Twitter, who asked, “What is your position on straight party voting?”
OLIVER: Well, I would restore the straight party option to statewide ballots if elected Secretary of State. The reason for that is actually because now that we have paper ballots in New Mexico, and we’ve had one for almost 10 years now, it actually really streamlines the voting process for voters.
A straight party option doesn’t necessarily mean that you are voting for only the candidates of a particular party, but it does simplify the process if you intend to vote for most the candidates in one political party. You can pick that straight party option and then go down the ballot. And say there’s a particular race where you favor the candidate of other party, you can elect to vote for the candidate of the other party. It’s not tying you, to only voting a straight party. But it does speed up the voting process, and makes it a lot easier for voters to participate.
DOLAND: Voter ID. Albuquerque residents have to show ID in the municipal elections, but in statewide elections, like this one on November 8th, New Mexicans do not have to show a photo ID. Should New Mexico follow Albuquerque’s lead and do the same, requiring the photo ID?
OLIVER: You know, I don’t think that we should. I struggle with this, because when we look at participation in the city elections in Albuquerque, frankly it’s not all that robust. In the most recent city election we had eight percent voter participation. So, I’m not sure we should model our state elections laws off of what a particular city in New Mexico is doing.
DOLAND: Are you suggesting that the photo ID requirement kept people from the polls?
OLIVER: No, but what I am saying is that the way that we conduct elections at the state wide level here in New Mexico. It seems to be working pretty well; we’ve made a lot of improvements to the election process. We’ve modernized it. We’re actually making great strides, and improving the integrity and accuracy of our voter registration database.
We do have voter ID laws on the books here in New Mexico. And a voter can show a physical form of ID if they choose to do that when they come to the polls. Or they can give a written or verbal statement of their voter registration information. It’s up to the voter; it’s the voter’s choice. And I really like that. It does seem to be working really well. And again, I don’t think we should be modeling our state laws off of what specific municipalities are doing.
DOLAND: But there haven’t been many problems in Albuquerque with the photo ID. I don’t think we are aware of this being a big problem, so why do we think it would be a problem at the state-level?
OLIVER: The problem with specific voter ID laws at the state-level, especially when you are talking about specific forms of voter identification is that when we look around the country at different states that have enacted these laws a couple of things are happening. First and foremost, we’re seeing places where anywhere between 10-12 percent of the population doesn’t have the specific kind of ID they need in order to vote. And worse, if you look at an example like Wisconsin, where the state is actually required to provide the ID to voters, they are falling down on the job. And voters are not getting the IDs they need so they can engage in their constitutional right to vote.
We’re seeing these laws struck down across the country. Just in the last year, we’ve seen four or five of these laws struck down by high courts across the nation. This is expensive and costly for states. We’re in a budget crisis here in New Mexico. We don’t have money to be engaging in really expensive litigation to solve what problem? There’s really not a whole lot of data showing we have lot of problems with the current system. I think it’s really important for us to stay the course that ensures every eligible citizen has the right to vote.
DOLAND: Annie on Twitter wants to know, what do you think about adopting same day voter registration.
OLIVER: Well, I’ve been a supporter of same day voter registration in the past. In the states that have same day voter registration, we tend to see higher voter participation rates. One of the things I am interested in, as the Secretary of State, is helping to increase our voter participation rates.
I think that in order to have a healthy democracy, a democracy that looks like the voters of the state, you need robust participation. And we can do it a way that’s technologically feasible. I would like to see a system where in the same way you can cast a provisional ballot now you could register on election day and cast that ballot, and we would verify it on the back end. Make sure its an appropriate voter registration and count it at that point.
DOLAND: About that verification, your opponent Nora Espinoza has said that same day registration means that someone driving across the country on Election Day could stop in Tucumcari, stop in Albuquerque, stop in Gallup, register right there and vote. How can you reassure us that people are not going to do that? That those votes are not going to happen, and not going to count?
OLIVER: Well first and foremost, anybody who tries to vote more than once in the state of New Mexico is committing a fourth degree felony. So obviously, we need to have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to prosecuting any type violation of the election code.
But the type of system I am proposing would be a back end verification system. It’d be a system where you complete the voter registration, and the ballot is cast. But then it’s verified on the backend of the system to make sure the situation you are describing doesn’t happen.
DOLAND: And what’s that verification look like?
OLIVER: Well what it would like is going back into the system after the election, and checking to make sure the same person didn’t register in some other county, and cast a ballot.
DOLAND: Campaign finance is one of the many things the Secretary of State’s office oversees. Candidates fill out forms; you’ve been doing these, saying how much you’ve got from donors, and what you’ve spent it on.
But in the past this has essentially been an honors system. The forms are filled out, but nobody at the Secretary of State’s office makes sure to see if they are correct. Would you audit these campaign forms for accuracy?
OLIVER: Absolutely. In fact, state law requires a mandatory 10 percent random audit of campaign finance reports.
But, to your point, we don’t know if those audits have taken place in the past to the extent that they have. Who’s performing these audits? Are they professional auditors or are they members of the Secretary of State’s staff? Are they being published in anyway so we, as citizens and voters, can understand who is compliant with state law and who isn’t? I am very interested in making sure we fully implement the audit law that is currently on the books.
I have been in talks with our state auditor to maybe form a partnership with that office in terms of conducting the audits. I also believe that every single election the Secretary of States’ campaign finance reports ought to be audited. The person who is in charge of overseeing this process should always have their reports audited, just so they’re never questioned about whether or not that report was chosen randomly or not.
DOLAND: Secretaries of State in the past have told us there just isn’t enough money, there aren’t enough resources, there aren’t enough people there. Is that an issue that would be a priority for you, in asking for money for the office and moving money around?
OLIVER: Well, I personally believe elections and election offices are chronically underfunded. Not just here in here in the state of New Mexico, but around the country. Democracy and the workings of our elections is something that we as Americans care deeply and passionately about, but we don’t seem to see that passion and priority reflected in these offices’ budgets. So yes of course, I’m going to full throatedly advocate for as many resources for the office as possible. In order to run fair elections, accessible elections to make sure these other components of the office, especially ethics enforcement aspect of the office are being adhered to. But, we are in a budget crisis here in New Mexico. So, its going to be really important to do as much as we can to streamline these processes, to utilize technology and tools, in order to do some of these things. But at a lower cost. And we also have to prioritize, budgets are a reflections of our priorities. My office is going to prioritize integrity of elections, ethics and holding elected official accountable at all levels of government.
DOLAND: Is there an example of something you would like to change about the way things are done there that isn’t going to require a lot of money?
OLIVER: There are a lot of things that we can do that can continue to modernize and streamline both the election process and the business services side of the office. It’s not something we get to talk to about much. The fact that the corporations bureau is now under the auspices of the secretary of state’s office, we as the voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2012 to move that division out of the PRC and into the Secretary of State’s office like it is in so many states. I would like to see a fully electronic business registration system. Currently we have a manual process that requires a lot of staff time and it requires business owners and potential business owners to jump through a lot of hoops and red tape, physically driving paper work or mailing it up to Santa Fe. Developing an electronic system, it saves time, it saves money, and it cuts a lot of that bureaucratic red tape getting in the way of starting much needed new businesses in our state.
KNME: Open primaries – we had a lot of conversation about this this year. Right now, independent voters are unable to cast ballots in primary elections, only people who have registered as Democrats or registered as Republicans get to vote in those respective primaries. But more people, more young people especially, are declining to choose a party when they register. So should we open these primaries to people who are not registered with those parties?
OLIVER: I believe that we should. Again, my values are for a more participatory system, a system which is open and inviting to people to come and cast a ballot and make their voice heard. I have run now five primary elections here in Bernalillo County, and in every single election since I’ve been county clerk, we’ve had individuals come to the polls on election day and be told that they are not going to be able to cast a regular ballot because they aren’t registered within a particular political party and whatever the reason that may be the case, whether it’s because the voter has consciously chosen not to elect a party or because of even sometimes a clerical error and that’s not reflected in their voter registration. It really hurts me to have to turn voters away from the ballot box, especially when they’re there, they want to have a say in who they’re nominating to be on the ballot in the fall. So I would love to see an open primary system here and I would support that.
Thanks to KUNM News Interns Anna Lande and Sarah Trujillo for getting this info up onto our website!