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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bernalillo County Clerk Refutes ACLU Accusations About Release of Confidential Registration Information

Today, the ACLU issued a press release announcing the organization had sent a letter to the New Mexico Attorney General calling for a criminal investigation of the Bernalillo County Clerk's Office and the GOP related to the distribution of confidential voter registration information in connection with the GOP's recent allegations of "voter fraud" by ACORN and others. Excerpts:

In a letter to the New Mexico Attorney General today, the ACLU called for a criminal investigation into concerns that the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office may have released confidential voter registration information to the Republican Party, and that the Party may have publicly distributed that information in violation of state laws protecting voter privacy. A press packet distributed by the GOP last week contained photocopies of 19 voter registration forms, and acknowledged that the Party obtained 92 voter registration forms in all. Several of the forms displayed written notes in a space reserved for “office use only,” suggesting that they had been reviewed by County officials before arriving in the Party’s hands.

... Although the GOP blacked out social security numbers on the registration forms released to the press, they left names, addresses, phone numbers, and, in some instances, dates of birth unredacted. Simonson urged immediate intervention by state authorities.

“We still do not know how the GOP obtained these registration forms, whether they might obtain more, and if someone in the County Clerk’s office is sharing the information with other parties,” Simonson said. “The threat to voters’ privacy is imminent.”

Today, the Bernalillo County Clerk's Office issued a statement in response to the ACLU request, which you can read in its entirety below.

My Take
I'm a big fan of the ACLU but, in this case, I think their limiting their request for an investigation to the Bernalillo County Clerk's Office and the GOP is unfortunate. Clearly, the very same registration information could have been procured by the Republican Party from someone in the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office or any County Clerk's Office in New Mexico as they all have access to the same registration data.

The "evidence" the GOP distributed to the media consisted of photocopies, not original documents, so they could easily have added or changed information to make them appear as they did in the photocopies. Moreover, the GOP press packet contained a variety of copied documents, with no indication of their source. In this era, the GOP is notorious for doing what it takes to make a talking point, no matter how misleading or dishonest -- as we know from reports of misbehavior on their part in many states this election cycle and previously.

I have serious doubts that Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver -- who has focused like a laser beam from day one on increasing transparency and accountability within the Office -- would have improperly released confidential voter registration information to the Republican Party. Toulouse Oliver has gone the extra mile to ensure that proper procedures are developed and followed, that clear standards apply to all aspects of the election process in the County and that every process is open to public scrutiny if laws permit. I just can't imagine that she or her office would have anything to do with an illegal release of information. It just doesn't add up.

Going Forward
Let's hope that the ACLU expands its investigation ASAP to the many other sources that could have released such information to the Republican Party. They should admit that by specifically citing only the Bernalillo County Clerk's Office as a possible source for the confidential data, undue suspicions were raised that the confidential information must have come from that office. Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps it was merely the result of a rush to take action that caused the ACLU to mistakenly omit other possible sources of the information from their call for an investigation. If so, I hope they are quick to amend their request to the Attorney General and make sure the public is informed.

Perhaps the worst aspect of this situation is the possibility that voters in Bernalillo County may lose some trust in the election process and refrain from voting. That would be a shame given the dedication to quality and transparency Toulouse Oliver and her team have demonstrated again and again as they've improved the operations of the office with extensive input from the public and election protection advocates. The Bernalillo County Clerk's Office under Toulouse Oliver's direction has consistently worked to increase voter confidence and participation. The current allegations should be viewed against that backdrop.

Statement from Bernalillo County Clerk Regarding ACLU Allegations of Criminal Behavior:

October 22, 2008 - Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver refutes the ACLU’s allegation that her office violated state laws protecting voter privacy.

“Based on the documents that I have seen, second-hand, that were ostensibly provided to local reporters, I can say that the copies of valid voter registrations that are included in the press packet did not come from my office.”

The Clerk, via the Bernalillo County Legal Department, has allowed representatives of the State GOP to visually inspect the approximately 1500 “suspicious” voter registration cards that have been segregated, not entered into the voter registration database, and forwarded to law enforcement for their potential investigation.

“The GOP submitted a formal Inspection of Public Records Act request to my office and to County Legal to review those cards and take properly redacted copies as requested,” says Clerk Toulouse Oliver. “Those inspections were completed via the Bernalillo County Legal Department to ensure that state law was followed in both allowing members of the public to inspect the documents as well as protecting voters’ privacy in providing copies of the documents.”

The Clerk provided redacted copies of the documents requested – the social security number and day and month of birth were blocked out of the copies provided to the GOP. Further, GOP representatives were not allowed to make notes when visually inspecting the cards.

“My office has not received a request to inspect valid and current voter registration records that are maintained in the voter registration system. Therefore, my office could not have provided the documents pertaining to properly registered voters that the GOP distributed to the press last week,” stated the Clerk.

Additionally, a “print list” for Bernalillo County for the months of September and October does not indicate that any of the records distributed by the GOP, other than the select and properly redacted “suspicious cards” were printed by any person at the County. The “print list” is a record of all documents printed from the voter registration database by every staff person with access to the database.

Toulouse Oliver notes that hers is not the only office with access to the records distributed by the GOP. Every County Clerk’s office in the state, as well as the Secretary of State, has access to the images obtained and distributed by the Republican Party.

“My office is willing to cooperate fully with any potential investigation into this situation, as I for one am eager to find out exactly how the GOP did get a hold of these documents,” stated Toulouse Oliver.

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October 22, 2008 at 01:41 PM in Civil Liberties, Election Reform & Voting, Government | Permalink


Maggie has done an incredible job and under a microscope since she was appointed.

The party (pun intended) to blame here is the party of dirty tricks on voters and the public with spurious claims and tirades that ring hollow, particularly as regards any effort to "protect the election system."

Give me a break.

The Republicans are not in favor of democracy. They want only their voters, which they "also" consider the properly elite "real" voters "also" from "real America" who are "also" the only voters who should have their right to vote protected. "Also," because they are not "socialist" and "also Christian."

All the "unwashed" can rot for all they care. Fuck them.

Posted by: bg | Oct 22, 2008 2:44:25 PM

I'm pleased that the ACLU is looking into this but sorry they had to go about it this way. They seem to be inadvertently suggesting there are no other sources of the personal data than the Bernalillo County Clerk's office. Very unlikely it came from them. Who thinks the GOP is telling the truth about anything?

Posted by: I Vote | Oct 22, 2008 3:53:32 PM

Let me clarify why we took the action we did. We issued our press release early this morning. Later in the day it came to light that the county clerk offices share a mutual database. Clearly that means that any of the offices could be responsible, and we will certainly raise that point in our conversations with the AG, as we have in comments to the press.

However, the voters in question were registered in the county of Bernalillo and that office did in fact release voter registration information to the GOP. It would seem to make sense that the investigation begin there, even though it may well end somewhere else, regardless of Ms. Toulouse's assurances. That however is the decision of the AG's office.

Let me also be clear that the ACLU is not conducting the investigation nor making any determinations about guilt. We responded as carefully but also as promptly as we could to sound the alarm that something seemed amiss. It's not our intention to cast aspersions but to ensure that voters' privacy is protected.

Peter Simonson
Executive Director, ACLU-NM

Posted by: Peter Simonson | Oct 22, 2008 10:16:00 PM

It is unfortunate that Maggie Toulouse Oliver is being blamed for providing documents ostensibly in the public interest, even though the GOP request, given its background, has to be suspect.

Surely Maggie will be vindicated by this investigation, should it occur. Meanwhile, the GOP should get its "just rewards".

Posted by: Paul Stokes | Oct 22, 2008 10:19:41 PM

This whole thing should have been handled much better from a public relations standpoint. I think the ACLU should have gotten more facts before issuing as press release.

I understand the GOP was questioning voter registrations of people who voted in the primary and that the Bernalillo County Clerk only gave out info on newer voter registrations that had not been entered into the system because there were problems with them. How could the confidential information have come from her?

I wish the ACLU had emphasized that it was the GOP that was releasing confidential information to the public, failing to say where it came from and and refusing to answer questions about where they got it. Too bad the GOP is doing bad things and the headlines are naming the Bernalillo County Clerk.

Posted by: clean elections now | Oct 22, 2008 10:46:53 PM

In my opinion I whole heartedly trust the County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
Please if some one could let me know....arent the copied forms that the GOP had in their position from the Primary election?? This is not about this present election. And what would Dan Silva want with the forms??

Posted by: Mary Ellen | Oct 23, 2008 8:50:03 AM

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