ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Secretary of State Dianna Duran has turned over 64,000 New Mexico voter data files to the State Police in an attempt to sort out irregularities.
Duran said Thursday that many of the irregularities — inconsistencies in names, Social Security numbers and dates of birth among the statewide voter file, the Motor Vehicle Division database and the Social Security Administration database — are likely to be innocent clerical or voter errors. But she also isn’t ruling out finding instances of voter fraud.
“I believe that it is the responsibility of the secretary of state to maintain the integrity and the accuracy of voter files,” Duran said. “I want everyone in New Mexico to know that if you are an eligible voter that your vote is counted and counted only once.”
But some election observers say that although Duran should be commended for trying to clean up errors in the voter file, her approach undermines voter confidence in the election system.
“The secretary of state’s handling of this issue has been irresponsible,” said Steve Allen, executive director of Common Cause. “Back in March, she led the public to believe she had evidence of criminal activity. Apparently, she never had such evidence. The mere existence of mismatches between these databases doesn’t in any way indicate that crimes have been committed.”
Duran revealed the investigation at a committee hearing during the legislative session in March. She told a panel of lawmakers that her office had found 117 people registered to vote who had been foreign nationals when they applied for New Mexico driver’s licenses. Thirty-seven of those people had voted between 2003 and 2010, she said.
Duran cited the investigation while testifying in support of legislation that would have required voters to have photo identification at the polls, although she acknowledged that her office could not confirm fraud had been committed.
Duran backed off statements about fraud Thursday, stressing that the investigation is about accuracy and saying it would be wrong to “characterize any part of the task before we know what the results will be.”
Denise Lamb, the deputy county clerk of Santa Fe County and a former state elections bureau director, said there are numerous ways voter data files can contain inaccuracies. For instance, voters and clerks can enter incorrect information, clerks can misread handwriting on voter registration forms or voters can forget to change registration information after changes such as taking a spouse’s name.
State Department of Public Safety Secretary Gorden Eden said State Police investigators are using computer programs to search for patterns that could suggest suspicious activity within the 64,000 files. He said the agency is using little manpower and resources for now, but an investigation could ramp up if they find more evidence of wrongdoing.
Investigators will not be individually checking every file, he said.
University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson, who has done extensive research on voter fraud in New Mexico, said the irregularities are a problem for every state.
“I think there is a lot of evidence that states nationwide have dirty files,” Atkeson said, referring to mistakes in the files, not fraud.
Cleaning up New Mexico’s file, which has consistently been rated in the middle of the pack for states in recent studies, is a good idea, and the methods Duran is using to find problems are sound, Atkeson said.
But alluding to voter fraud, especially using the State Police to sort out records as opposed to county clerks who run elections in the state’s 33 counties, could lead to voters having more suspicions about the election system instead of feeling more secure, Atkeson said.
“Before you went to that step, maybe you would want to go to the county clerks first,” Atkeson said. “I wonder, what is the point of doing that? Why bring it to a criminal state before running through your administrative process?”