NM secretary of state checks licenses, voter rolls
Tuesday, March 15, 2011; 9:54 PM
SANTA FE, N.M. -- New Mexico's top elections official told lawmakers Tuesday she is concerned that a review of the state's voter registration rolls and a list of the thousands of foreign nationals who have been issued driver's licenses under a much debated state law has turned up evidence of fraud.
Secretary of State Dianna Duran issued a statement Tuesday evening that provided details of her office's findings after two days of cross checking the databases.
The office matched 117 voter registrations to names and dates of birth in the database of foreign national license holders. All 117 have Social Security numbers on their voter registrations that do not match their names, and at least 37 of those individuals have voted in New Mexico elections.
Duran, a former state senator and county clerk, said New Mexico has had close elections in which some officials have won or lost by a handful of votes.
"I know New Mexicans will agree that even one illegal vote is one too many," she said.
Meanwhile, both immigrant and voter rights groups questioned the validity of the review.
"Basically it's an absurd way of trying to ferret out people who are illegally registering. There has been no evidence to show that immigrants who are either legally permanent residents or undocumented are trying to do it," said Marcela Diaz of the immigrant rights group Somos Un Pueblo Unido.
The issue of whether New Mexico should issue driver's licenses to foreign nationals, particularly illegal immigrants, has been the focus of much debate during the current legislative session.
Immigrant applicants for a driver's license don't need a Social Security number as part of their identification. Instead, they can submit a taxpayer identification number issued by the federal government along with other identification such as a passport and a Matricula Consular card issued by a Mexican consulate.
Two other states - Washington and Utah - also allow illegal immigrants to get licenses because their laws do not require proof of citizenship. However, Utah's driving permits cannot be used as a government identification card.
A spokesman for Gov. Susana Martinez said the initial report from the secretary of state's office should be a concern for New Mexicans.
"Each and every illegally cast vote disenfranchises a New Mexican, and this is yet another reason why the governor strongly supports repealing the law that gives driver's licenses to illegal immigrants," said spokesman Scott Darnell.
Under a 2003 law, more than 80,000 driver's licenses have gone to foreign nationals. The state says it doesn't know how many of those went to illegal immigrants because it doesn't ask the immigration status of license applicants.
Diaz, of Somos Un Pueblo Unido, said the cross check won't help to identify illegal voting because she contends the list being used by the secretary of state's office also includes U.S. citizens who did not use their Social Security numbers when obtaining a license and those residents who have since become naturalized.
Most people in the immigrant community would not attempt to vote illegally because it would prevent them from one day becoming a legal permanent resident or citizen, Diaz said.
"That's not a risk people are willing to take," she said.
Diaz and others were concerned the effort by the secretary of state's office could actually disenfranchise New Mexicans who are eligible to vote.
Duran vowed Tuesday to make sure all legitimate votes are counted and said the "culture of corruption in Santa Fe is over."
"I know there are more legislators who agree with me and Gov. Martinez than there are legislators who believe there is an acceptable number of illegal votes," she said.
The secretary of state's office is also awaiting more data from the Motor Vehicle Division in response to a 2006 lawsuit filed by the state Republican Party that sought to disclose the names of foreign nationals who had obtained driver's licenses.
The party wanted the names - along with other information withheld by former Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's administration - so it could check them against the voter rolls. Republicans were concerned that immigrants could use their driver's licenses to register to vote.
As part of an agreement to settle the claim, the Motor Vehicle Division is gathering information on foreign national license holders as of July 2006.
Darnell said the agreement ensures federal and state privacy laws are upheld by having the secretary of state's office check the names against the voter rolls, rather than releasing the information to the Republican party.
Whether the rest of the information, some of which pertains to an audit of foreign national license holders, is released depends on the New Mexico Supreme Court. The court heard arguments Monday but has yet to issue a ruling.