Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver

In most states across the country, voters elect the chief election officer in their state — their secretary of state. These officials hold the keys to vital parts of the election administration process — and who holds these offices has significant ramifications for elections.

As we saw in the 2020 elections, they can either stand firm against illegal election interference or aid conspiracy theorists in their efforts to undermine democracy. In New Mexico, there has been no exception.

The Paper. spoke with Democratic incumbent candidate Maggie Toulouse Oliver about why she is running and what her office is doing to safeguard elections and voter rights.

The Paper. reached out to Republican candidate Audrey Trujillo, but did not hear back as of press time.

The Paper.: In the past 2 years, we’ve seen the Secretary of State and County Clerk offices come under fire for election integrity and become political lightning rod positions. How is your office working to stay as nonpartisan as possible amid the national rhetoric?

Toulouse Oliver: I think our office is always conscientious about every decision we make in a nonpartisan way. Nothing has changed in terms of how we operate and what we do. There are a certain amount of election misinformation and baseless claims that we’ve dealt with. We’re trying to do everything we can to put out factual accurate information and make the public aware to make the decisions for themselves. 

If voters want to see all of the ways we are working to safeguard the election process, they can visit https://www.sos.state.nm.us/2022/06/01/rumor-vs-reality-website-fact-checks-misinformation-about-new-mexicos-voting-and-elections/

How is your office working to ensure voter integrity?

We already have extremely robust processes to ensure the integrity of the outcome of each election. All eligible citizens have the opportunity to cast a ballot. The processes that are already in place are the gold standard and best practices from around the country. We are going the extra mile for training of our county clerks. We are deepening and broadening the guidance of their training to make sure our counts are accurate. 

There have been calls from county commissioners and activists here in NM and around the country for ballots to be hand counted to ensure voter integrity. Is this even a possibility, and would it actually ensure a more secure ballot or would it still leave room for fraud?

County commissioners have an important role in ensuring county clerks follow the law. They don’t make election policy. Those are the clerks and the legislature and my office. It’s good they are asking questions but the push for hand counting ballots is based on misinformation about how our machines are working. 

The post-election audit we conduct to make sure the ballots counted are accurate is very important. The folks pushing for hand counted ballots aren’t aware of these safeguards:

-They are able to watch machines calibrate before the election themselves.

-Hand counting ballots have been found to be far less accurate, and it’s a much slower process, and could take literally months of counting and recounting. 

Do you believe voter information should be public?

100% I believe it should. I think the challenge comes [within] the difference between voter information used for public purposes and putting the entire voter database on a public platform. I think voters have a reasonable right to expect protections of their voter data. Specific terms of use, like for a campaign who would use the information to reach out to them, is and should be allowed.

How do you plan to expand voting access and protect voting rights, especially in an increasingly hostile environment, especially when targeting minority communities. 

We’ve done a tremendous amount of work to expand opportunities to the ballot box. Our biggest challenge in New Mexico is reaching our urban or rural minority communities. If I win, this will be a number one priority in trying to address this. Whether it’s including language and culturally appropriate info about how and when to cast your ballot or equally as important is assuring physical access to the ballot box. Rural and tribal communities have to drive the longest distance to vote. What we are focused on is how we can better serve those communities. Some of those ways are by using mobile early voting units. We also can allow them to return and receive ballots in a location most convenient for them. 

Do you believe that President Biden is the duly elected president of the United States?

I sure do.