Columns appear here a week after they're sent to newspaper subscribers.

Secretaries of State must protect a voting system that’s under attack
By Sherry Robinson

All She Wrote
            For secretaries of state, the good old days were when the biggest priority was accurately counting votes. That’s still a priority, but so are cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns, bots, and phishing scams.
          “Election security is like running a marathon without a finish line. You solve one problem, another pops up,” said Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver during a recent talk to New Mexico Press Women.
          Toulouse Oliver is leading a national voter education campaign, #Trusted Information 2020, as president-elect of the National Association of Secretaries of State.
          The bipartisan initiative is intended to counter persistent sources of bad information by driving voters with questions to their election officials.
            Election integrity has two technical aspects, she explained. One is making sure voters can freely cast their ballots, and the second is protections against hacking. “We have nations attacking our system,” she said.
          Toulouse Oliver herself got a phishing email and reported it to the Department of Homeland Security. “It was of Russian origin. We definitely expect those, and we’re trained to deal with it. We’re also bracing for ransomware.”
          She said the federal government should do more, but she gives DHS credit for performing risk and vulnerability assessments. “DHS is working very hard,” she said. “DHS has been an amazing partner with us.”
          Election integrity is under attack from a third direction.
          “The biggest thing I’m concerned about is disinfomation attacks,” she said. “People get information from the internet. Often the Russians are putting out misinformation, plus bots and groups. They’re attempting to sow and foster discord. It’s not just hardware being targeted but our hearts and minds.”
          These are the texts and emails that misinform people about voting sites and dates, that distort candidates’ records and comments, that allege voter fraud when there is none.
           “Be really vigilant about what you’re consuming. Be careful about what you forward. Make sure it’s from a trusted source,” she said.
          The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office is on most social media platforms, and legislators gave it a budget for voter education.
          Regarding voter fraud and voting irregularities, we have less to worry about here than most states.
          “Here in New Mexico we do have one of the best systems in the U. S. We were forward thinking. In 2006 the Legislature passed a law requiring paper ballots. Some saw this as a step backward, but now, regardless of what happens, we have a paper ballot to fall back on.”
          The trusty paper ballot can be used in post-election audits, spot checks, and for full recounts by hand. And when results are close, they can be recounted.
          “We’re really high on lists of voting integrity,” she said.
          To give credit where credit is due, it was former Gov. Bill Richardson who pushed for paper ballots, with support from then Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil Giron. After problems with the 2000 elections nationwide (remember hanging chads?), Richardson saw it as a way to restore confidence in the system. At the time 13 counties were already using the proposed paper system. County clerks weren’t opposed but wanted time to phase in the new systems and train employees.
          Republicans objected that it was a handout to the one company whose machines could process the ballots. A Clovis legislator asked why they were going back to the horse and buggy. The bill passed on party-line votes.
          The newest wrinkle is ranked-choice voting, which is now reality in Las Cruces and Santa Fe. “It’s just a different way of thinking about voting,” she said. With every change, voting officials have to think about cost, voter fatigue, and wear and tear on staff. The goal is always accessibility. It’s a job that’s never done.


Sherry Robinson photo

© 2020 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES     1-6-20
This is how representative democracy works
By Merilee Dannemann

Triple Spaced Again
Across New Mexico, dedicated individuals are working for causes you may never have heard of, but which just might benefit you or someone you care about. Many of them work for nonprofit organizations that hope to present proposals to the Legislature, usually with a request for funding.
New Mexico Public Health Association’s annual conference is a gathering place for these groups, to share visions, build coalitions, and seek the endorsement of NMPHA.
We will likely be hearing from at least a few of these groups during the upcoming 2020 legislative session. Here is a sampling of the causes they represent.
One ambitious proposal seeks to expand access to New Mexico-grown fresh fruits and vegetables, already in the public schools, by requesting more money for the school program and adding a new program for low-income senior citizens. The senior program would provide vouchers that seniors could use at farmers’ markets. This has the double benefit of providing healthy food and supporting New Mexico agriculture.
The New Mexico School Nurse Association is asking to place a nurse and a social worker in every public school, pointing to New Mexico’s last-place national ranking in child well-being.
A coalition of several organizations wants to expand access to long-acting reversible contraceptives, asking for $500,000 to increase training for health-related professionals. The group cites New Mexico’s high rate of unintended teen pregnancies. New Mexico’s teen birth rate is currently seventh highest in the United States.
The state’s Center for Health Innovation is advocating development of improved open access to health-related data. This effort received a one-time appropriation of $150,000 in 2019. The group is now seeking $350,000 in recurring funds (that is, support intended to continue year after year). The same group is asking for expansion of Area Health Education Centers to encourage more New Mexicans, including schoolchildren, to undertake health-related careers.
The Drug Policy Alliance proposes a demonstration project using injectable opioids for heroin users who have not succeeded with other treatments. Their proposal says this will be similar to permanent programs already operating in Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark.
The New Mexico Chiropractic Association is asking for chiropractic services to be funded by Medicaid, arguing that chiropractic treatment is a way to reduce reliance on opioids for pain treatment.
There is a movement to amend the state Constitution to divert money from the state Land Grant Permanent Fund for early childhood education. This has grown with the recognition that New Mexico needs major investment in early childhood education. A group called Invest in Kids Now is named as the advocate for this proposal, representing an extensive coalition.
New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence is advocating for the policy known as a red-flag law, formally called extreme risk protection order. This law would allow family members or law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from individuals in crisis.
Some of these proposals have already been presented to legislative interim committees; some had legislative sponsors lined up. These advocates had done their homework and were offering to our volunteer legislators ideas and recommendations worth considering. The NMPHA itself will provide another layer of screening by choosing which proposals to endorse.
A few of these proposals stand a reasonable chance of being enacted into law. Most will probably never get past their first legislative committee. Collectively, they probably represent much more money than the legislature will be willing to commit, especially those asking for recurring funds.
This is how our representative democracy works quietly, year-round. Much legislation doesn’t begin at the legislature. It often begins months or years earlier, with the efforts of citizens who share their expertise, hammer out their issues, and develop broad coalitions.
This kind of behind-the-scenes effort usually gets no publicity, but it’s how citizens participate in our state’s representative democracy.
Contact Merilee Dannemann through