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Thursday, June 1, 2006
Official Warns of Voter Fraud
By Jeff Jones
Copyright © 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Politics Writer
About 60,000 of the state's new voter identification cards are being sent to wrong addresses in Bernalillo County and create the potential for voting fraud, the county clerk said Wednesday.
"If anybody wants to commit it, they can open up that card (envelope)," said Mary Herrera, the clerk and top election official for New Mexico's largest county.
Herrera and other elections officials warned that casting a vote by using someone else's voter identification card information would be a felony.
The new, plastic voter ID cards are being mailed out by Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron's office at a cost of about $1 million.
The voter information for the cards is being provided to Vigil-Giron's office by the state's 33 county clerks. But Herrera chalked up the massive number of incorrect addresses to the fact that voters often do not change their voter registrations and address listings after moving.
Herrera estimated that well over 100,000 of the cards could be mailed to the wrong addresses statewide. Bernalillo County voters have been the first in the state to get them, but cards for voters in other counties are in the mail.
While the new cards aren't required for voting, they contain all the personal information a voter needs to cast a ballot in the June 6 primary election or another election.
Meanwhile, an estimated 200-plus complaint calls poured into the secretary of state's office Wednesday.
It was the second consecutive day that New Mexicans have bombarded the Santa Fe office with beefs that the new cards include incorrect genders and incorrect birth dates. Herrera blamed those kinds of card errors on difficulties her employees have in deciphering voters' original, handwritten registration cards.
Vigil-Giron has said some callers have complained that the new voter ID cards have been sent to voters who have died.
Vigil-Giron said she received an e-mail from one Bernalillo County resident who received four cards for people who don't live at his address.
At least one other Albuquerque resident got three cards in his mail for former residents, the Journal learned.
The intention of the new law requiring the voter ID to be sent out was to let people know they were properly registered before each primary election, one of the legislative sponsors of the 2005 election-reform law said Wednesday.
Voters were to have a card to verify their voter registration if they were questioned by election officials, said Sen. Gerald Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque.
"I think that's still a good idea now," Ortiz y Pino said. But he acknowledged that "if there's 60,000 address changes that haven't been picked up in the system ... that's a huge problem."
The Democrat-backed voter ID measure has been criticized by Republicans who contend it is mere window dressing and falls far short of the mandatory, photo ID voting cards they want. Republicans said they wanted voter identification requirements as a way to prevent election fraud.
State GOP chairman Allen Weh said he received one of the new voter ID cards Monday for his nephew, who stayed at his home while attending college six years ago but returned to Texas. Weh called the cards a "big joke."
"It's just one more sad chapter of New Mexico's pathetic history of not having clean elections," Weh said.
Vigil-Giron will leave her post at the end of this year following a total of 12 years as secretary of state. Four Democrats and one Republican are vying for the major party nominations on June 6 to replace her. Herrera is one of the Democratic candidates.
Another Democratic candidate, Letitia Montoya, seized upon the voter ID card issue Wednesday, firing off a news release to point blame at Herrera.
Vickie Perea, the Republican candidate, also weighed in, calling the voting-card issue the result of "plain and simple mismanagement."
The new cards include a voter's name, address, date of birth and in many cases the last four digits of the voter's Social Security number. They also include details such as voting precinct, school district and congressional district.
Under the 2005 law that requires the state to mail out the cards before each primary election, voters going to the polls must identify themselves in one of several ways:
By showing a current photo ID or copy of a photo ID, with or without an address;
By providing an original or copy of a utility bill, paycheck or other "government document" showing the voter's name and address even if that address doesn't match the address listed in voting records;
Or by the voter giving a "verbal or written statement" attesting to his or her name, year of birth and the last four digits of his or her Social Security number the same information listed on the new cards.
Herrera said she began a public-awareness campaign in 2005 to let voters know the new voter ID cards would be coming and to make sure their current addresses were on file with the county clerk's office. But she said many voters didn't heed that advice.
State election law says "a voter who has changed his residence within the same county shall complete a certificate of registration to change his registered residence address."
But state Bureau of Elections director Ernie Marquez said Wednesday he can find no punishment in state election law for violating that provision. Herrera and Vigil-Giron said the law needs teeth.
Vigil-Giron said voters who receive cards that don't belong to them should write "return to sender" on the outside of the envelopes so they can be returned to the Secretary of State's Office.