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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The jokes practically write themselves whenever news hits that someone’s registered a dog to vote.
Politics has gone to the dogs, the fur will fly — that kind of thing.
But authorities don’t find it so funny, and the latest case has been tracked to the husband of a staff member for Heather Wilson’s U.S. Senate campaign.
Thom Tolbert, the husband of Wilson staffer Heather N. Wade, apologized Thursday and said his wife wasn’t aware that he’d registered Buddy, their black labrador retriever, to vote.
“I made a mistake, and I want to apologize to Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, my wife, who was not aware of my actions, and the public,” Tolbert said in a written statement. “I will take full responsibility for my actions.”
The case began when Tolbert told KOB-TV this week that he had registered his dog to vote as a way to expose how easy it is to submit fake information.
Bernalillo County election workers, in turn, said Thursday that they had turned over a suspicious registration in Buddy’s name to the Sheriff’s Department, which is investigating.
The registration card is for a “Buddy Tolbert” on Haines NE, where Thom Tolbert and Wade, a paid staff member for Wilson, live.
Tolbert said in an interview that he isn’t involved in Wilson’s campaign. The campaign said it didn’t know about the registration.
“We learned about this from the media,” said Bryce Dustman, campaign manager for Wilson. “This was very poor judgment by a family member of an employee. He has apologized, and this matter is between him and the county clerk.”
The last guy known to register his dog in Bernalillo County ended up in court on felony charges.
Don Pizzolato, a contractor, pleaded guilty in 2009 to an Election Code registration offense, a fourth-degree felony, and was placed on probation, according to online court records. The charge was later dismissed from his record.
Pizzolato told the Journal in 2008 that he’d never actually expected his dog, Tuckup, to end up on the voter rolls. He filled out the paperwork after someone approached him at a Walmart, but he made up the Social Security number and birth date.
“I fully expected the form to be returned to me,” Pizzolato said in 2008, when the news broke.
County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver isn’t amused by any of it. She issued a fresh warning Thursday about the consequences of election shenanigans. Dealing with fake registrations consumes public time and resources, she said, and can result in criminal charges.
The goal of the offenders, she said, seems to be to undermine public confidence in the election system.
“It’s really not funny,” she said. “What I can say is that it clearly shows a pattern of people trying to make a show or pull a ‘gotcha.’”
The ability of her office to reject voter registrations is limited by law, Oliver said. Workers check to ensure that the Social Security numbers are complete and don’t match someone else already on file.
They’re also on the lookout for suspicious activity, such as batches of registrations with names that appear to have been copied out of a phone book. In 2008, about 1,500 suspicious cards weren’t entered into the voter system, and Oliver met with the FBI about them.
Photo identification isn’t required for people who register in person.
Tolbert said he would never vote under Buddy’s name but that the system is subject to the possibility of fraud.
“I did this, and I exposed it,” he said. “How many people do it and aren’t exposing it on a daily basis?”
Tolbert is now a University of New Mexico student after having served 20 years in the Army, where he was a combat medic.
ProgressNow New Mexico, an advocacy group, issued a statement saying a “Hounds for Heather” campaign had been exposed. “Heather Wilson’s team is undermining the integrity of our voting system from their kitchen tables,”said Pat Davis of ProgressNow New Mexico.