Former Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver has been sworn in as New Mexico Secretary of State, replacing interim-Secretary Brad Winter.
Toulouse Oliver took the oath in Santa Fe on Dec. 9, amidst a crowded room at the New Mexico Supreme Court. On Dec. 2, she resigned her county clerk position to take on her newly elected role.
“As I take office in the wake of an election that is likely to be discussed for years, we observe a truly American ideal our country has seen time and time again. The peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another,” Toulouse Oliver said. “Though elections are contentious, we are all joined by a remarkable common bond, that our sacred fundamental right to vote is our voice.”
The new SOS has promised to look into super PAC funding as well as review campaign finance disclosures. Additionally, she has launched official Twitter and Facebook accounts created to generate better communication between the Secretary of State’s Office and the citizens of New Mexico.
“We are ecstatic that Maggie Toulouse Oliver took the oath of office today,” said Chairwoman of the Democratic Party of New Mexico Debra Haaland. Speaking in a statement, Haaland said, “Not only has she successfully run elections in Bernalillo County, she also has the integrity to build trust in government on a statewide level.”
According to final vote totals, Toulouse Oliver won the SOS seat with 56.4% of the vote.
“There’s a lot of reform that needs to be implemented — and I’m so ready for it,” Toulouse Oliver told the Albuquerque Journal after her win.
At an election night watch party, Toulouse Oliver thanked her supporters in a victory speech.
“Now we begin the work of ensuring integrity and accountability in the Secretary’s office and throughout government in New Mexico,” Toulouse Oliver said.
The emphasis on integrity is a reference to the previously elected SOS, Dianna Duran. Last October, former SOS Duran plead guilty to embezzlement and money laundering after evidence surfaced that she had used campaign contributions to pay off gambling debts. Duran resigned after these allegations were proven to be true.
Governor Susana Martinez appointed Winter following Duran’s arrest in December 2015. Winter chose not to run for the position, instead choosing to see the job through until a new SOS would be elected in a special election this year.
The SOS race usually takes place at the same time as the governor’s race. Toulouse Oliver ran for the SOS position previously in 2014, but lost to Duran.
Two candidates emerged from the June 2016 primary: Toulouse Oliver and Republican State Representative Nora Espinoza.
Espinoza has been a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives since 2007, representing District 59. On Nov. 19, Espinoza announced on Facebook she would be running for Chair of the Republican Party of New Mexico.
Voter ID was a focal point in both campaigns
Both Toulouse Oliver and Espinoza had clear, but opposing stances on the voter ID issue in New Mexico, making it a focus in both campaigns.
Espinoza was in favor of requiring voters to show a form of identification at voting locations, in order to prevent fraud.
Toulouse Oliver opposed requiring voters to show their ID at voting locations, saying the laws would discriminate against elderly and low-income voters.
Toulouse Oliver supported laws allowing New Mexico residents to register to vote online and automatically registering voters who apply for a New Mexico state driver’s license.
The Secretary of State race was one to watch
Both campaigns resorted to running negative ads on the other candidate.
Toulouse Oliver ran a TV ad comparing the policies of Donald Trump to Espinoza, calling her “too extreme for New Mexico.” The ad compared Espinoza’s proposal to ban Mexican-American literature in schools to Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the U.S./Mexico border.
She ran another ad comparing the two Republicans, referencing Trump’s comments on punishing women who have abortions. The ad cites Espinoza’s proposed bill requiring doctors to tell their patients abortion causes cancer and penalizes those doctors who do not follow suit.
In her campaign ads, Espinoza cites cases of Toulouse Oliver’s county clerk office registering dogs to vote, poking fun at Toulouse Oliver’s leadership skills in her position. Espinoza also posted negative images on social media, depicting Toulouse Oliver as “crooked.”
According to statistics from Pew Research Center, more and more Americans are using social media to connect with politicians. Since 2010, the amount of social media users who follow politicans has risen 10 percent, as shown by a 2014 poll.
Janette Perez, 64, said the negative campaigns didn’t bother her because she did research on each candidate.
“To me the negative campaigning doesn’t matter because not all of it is true, but I look at what they’ve done through the years,” Perez said.
Both candidates participated in a debate, held at Congregation Albert in Albuquerque. There, they talked about important New Mexico issues like online voting, voting barcodes and gun laws.
Toulouse Oliver and Espinoza agreed on one issue, both saying online voting was not an option for New Mexico.
“Presently, due to technology, it would not be something that I would race and do as Secretary of State. I think that that the focus needs to be that we need to clean up our rolls,” Espinoza said in regards to the online voting issue.
Toulouse Oliver had a similar view, saying there was no safe way for New Mexicans to vote online, without potential hacker interference.
“This is something that I have been working with a variety of national organizations on for years… A lot of people, a lot of incredibly smart people, have looked into this issue and unfortunately, we’re not there yet, we’re not there technologically,” Toulouse Oliver said.
The candidates went back to opposing sides when the issue of voter barcodes was brought up by an audience member.
If voter barcodes were used, each New Mexico voter would receive a package in the mail containing a barcode. The package would also include the voter’s personal information required at polling stations, that would be scanned in replacement of ID.
Toulouse Oliver defended her use of voter barcodes, stating they helped lines move along quickly at polling stations and increased the efficiency of the voting process. She cited her extensive work with the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) to make barcodes safe for New Mexico voters.
ERIC is a non-profit organization helping many states across the U.S. improve accuracy in the polls and increase voter registration for eligible citizens. The organization helps registered states contact voters who may not be registered yet. The program contacts eligible voters and gives them information about upcoming elections in their state. New Mexico joined ERIC in 2014.
Espinoza fired back, claiming to have instances where barcodes were sent to the wrong addresses and to the wrong citizens. She said Toulouse Oliver’s system was unorganized and increased the potential for voter fraud.
When asked about whether guns should be allowed at New Mexico polling stations, the candidates were once again at odds.
Espinoza dodged the question saying, “At this point, I’m running for Secretary of State, that’s up to the legislature, and whatever the legislature decides.”
Toulouse Oliver was against the issue, saying that guns should not be allowed at polling stations due to safety concerns. She did mention that law enforcement is called if there appears to be a threat or if voters are obstructed from casting their ballot.
“That’s the only time, in my belief, that guns should be allowed at a polling place, is when they’re in the hands of a law enforcement officer that is undertaking their duties,” Toulouse Oliver said.