When the state’s top election official makes a public allegation of criminal behavior during prior elections, it is something that should be taken seriously and looked at closely. Secretary of State Dianna Duran made just such an allegation in March during a legislative committee hearing. Duran told lawmakers she had uncovered evidence that 37 people who are not U.S. citizens had voted in New Mexico elections.
But, when the ACLU filed an open records request the next day to examine the registration records of the 37 voters highlighted by Duran during the public meeting of the Legislature, she refused to turn them over, hiding behind the weak and inappropriate excuse of “executive privilege.”
Executive privilege allows a president, governor or other member of the executive branch to confer with advisors in private, without divulging the nature of those discussions or the participants. For example, when Democrats wanted to know who had served on an energy task force several years ago, Vice President Dick Cheney claimed executive privilege in denying that request. It does not allow a member of the executive branch to conceal evidence of an alleged crime.
The ACLU has filed suit in District Court in Albuquerque, and we trust the court will order Duran to comply fully with the state Open Records law.
Beyond the narrow issue of open government, there is also a larger issue at stake here. When the person responsible for overseeing New Mexico elections makes an allegation of criminal voter fraud, it serves to undermine the faith and confidence voters have in the fairness of the election process.
Certainly, if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing, it should be brought into the open. That is why we supported Duran’s decision to turn over evidence to the State Police, instead of letting county clerks conduct the investigation. But now Duran has the State Police looking at 64,000 registrations, not just the original 37, and she said the objective is not to root out voter fraud but simply to clean up the voter rolls.