Exorcising the voter fraud phantoms

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By Sherry Robinson

One of the few issues to be laid to rest this campaign season is voter fraud. Fears, mostly on the right, that noncitizens might be voting, manifested in voter identification bills here and across the nation.
Bearing the voter-fraud torch was Secretary of State Dianna Duran, who proceeded to botch the effort from beginning to end. She announced early last year that New Mexico had a “culture of corruption,” a charge repeated in national media. (Just what we need.) Later she referred 64,000 possibly fraudulent voter records to the State Police. That number plummeted a year ago to 104 voters who were illegally registered to vote and 19 who actually voted illegally.
In her report, Duran stuck her jaw out and accused her critics of being partisan while insisting that her office was “simply not in that game,” and that even though 19 didn’t sound like much, any instance of vote fraud was significant. Democrats returned fire.
More telling was the response of the nonpartisan Common Cause New Mexico. The group applauded Duran’s effort to clean up the state’s voter records but charged that Duran was “deliberately undermining public trust in New Mexico elections purely to promote policies, such as voter photo ID, which are designed to prevent qualified New Mexicans from casting a ballot.”
As evidence, Common Cause noted that Duran began the process with a media campaign painting New Mexico red before she had any results and then refusing to reveal her methodology. At the same time she supported a voter ID law that could disenfranchise thousands of legitimate New Mexico voters, especially elderly, student, Native American, Hispanic and low-income groups.
Attempts to keep the public in the dark drew Freedom of Information requests from the media and the ACLU. Duran responded with such heavily redacted documents that readers could only guess at their content. The ACLU sued, citing transparency as the real issue.
Common Cause saw the purge as part of a national effort to suppress voter turnout, especially in swing states like New Mexico, and urged Duran “to abandon her partisan media campaign and get down to the serious business of preparing the state for the important election year ahead.” Then Duran tried to rewind the tape, saying that it wasn’t a voter fraud investigation but a “misunderstanding” by the media.
She must never have heard the old adage that when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.
Duran has lost so much credibility that even her discredited predecessor Mary Herrera is taking potshots from a blog. In August, when Duran mailed postcards to presumed inactive voters, following federal guidelines, it drew more public attention and brickbats from Democratic legislators. She had to explain that she was merely trying to clean up voter rolls.
 “There is no voter suppression at work here,” she said.
To every charge of voter fraud by the right comes an equal charge of voter suppression by the left, and Duran’s benighted office is now on the defensive.
Duran has now taken one for the cause. Political blogger Joe Monahan suggested that Duran “might want to think about showing some independence from the hard-right of the GOP… because she is getting crushed by them.”
A recent Associated Press story revealed a similar pattern in other states. Colorado’s Secretary of State launched his campaign within days of Duran’s. He estimated 11,805 noncitizens on the rolls, which shrank to 141, of whom 35 voted, and eight of those turned out to be citizens.
Maybe it hasn’t all been in vain. If there was real concern about who was voting, it’s now clear that voter fraud is a small problem – less than 3 one-hundredths of 1 percent, to be exact. Bottom line: Our systems and processes work surprisingly well.
Sherry Robinson
New Mexico News Service