On the ballot in 2016, a special election will determine who serves the remaining two years as New Mexico secretary of state after the mid-term resignation of former Secretary Dianna Duran, R-NM, last summer.
Duran, reelected to office in 2014, pleaded guilty to six charges including embezzlement, and admitted to using campaign funds to fuel gambling trips to Sandia Resort and Casino during her first term. Her plea deal involved light jail time, five years probation and allowed her to keep her public pension.
Governor Susana Martinez appointed Albuquerque City Councilor Brad Winter as interim secretary of state until the election. Winter is not seeking to serve the remainder of Duran’s unexpired term, so the seat is up for grabs.
Two candidates are seeking the third-highest office in the state executive department, after each running unopposed in this year’s primary election: Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse-Oliver, D-NM, and State Representative Nora Espinoza, R-NM.
In the absence of the governor and lieutenant governor, the secretary of state performs the duties of the governor.
The secretary of state is also responsible for maintaining a record of state legislation and ensuring that proposed amendments to the state constitution are made known to the public four weeks prior to election.
Perhaps the most central role of the position’s office is election oversight. According to its government website, the secretary of state is the state’s chief election officer. Election practices are at the heart of both candidates’ campaign platform.
Maggie Toulouse-Oliver, (D)
As county clerk, Toulouse-Oliver’s duties for the past eight years have somewhat mirrored those of the secretary of state on a local level. The clerk oversees election processes and maintains public records on the county level.
In her two terms as county clerk, Toulouse-Oliver emphasized the integrity, transparency and modernization of her office. She champions voter-friendly election processes that make it as easy for citizens to vote, as well as campaign finance reform that increases transparency and accountability in political spending.
She has also been a proponent of “vote centers”, which allow citizens to cast ballots at any location in a given jurisdiction instead of confining them to a specific precinct. Replacing the old precinct-based model for polling locations involves the increased importance of electronic voter data, and a cohesive network of computers.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, vote centers may improve voter turnout and reduce Election Day costs, but it would require the modernization of election technology.
As secretary of state, Toulouse-Oliver would “close loopholes and end confusion around campaign finance reporting, and create a new, searchable campaign finance and lobbyist disclosure portal,” according to her campaign website.
Toulouse-Oliver’s campaign is based on restoring integrity, transparency and accountability to the New Mexico secretary of state’s office, as she said in a debate with her opponent earlier this month.
Nora Espinoza, (R)
Toulouse-Oliver’s opponent, four-term State Representative Nora Espinoza, spent more than two decades as an educator in Roswell before going on to serve as an administrator at the New Mexico Military Institute prior to her nine years in the state legislature.
In the State House of Representatives, Espinoza has sat on the Regulatory and Public Affairs, Transportation and Public Works, Business and Industry, and Education committees.
In the most recent legislature, Espinoza served as the Education Committee chair.
In the last legislative cycle, she sponsored legislation that defined appropriate spending of campaign funds and called for voter ID laws that would require voters to have specific forms of state-issued ID at the polls.
The greatest threat to democracy is voter fraud, Espinoza’s campaign website states, and solid, court-approved, constitutional voter ID is the best way to protect against voter fraud and stolen elections.
Espinoza’s campaign claims that voter turnout increases when voter ID laws are put in place, even among minority communities of color, but according to the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, there is conflicting research on the subject spanning the past decade.
“I will establish clear guidance for how lobbyists and the companies, corporations, entities and interest groups they represent report their required disclosures, contributions and expenditures,” her website says of campaign financing.
Johnny Vizcaino is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @thedailyjohnnyv.