New Mexico voter purge targets faithful voters
Diane Wood is what I call a patriot.
A lifelong resident of New Mexico, Wood directs Common Cause’s voting rights project in that state. That means she devotes her working hours to ensuring that her fellow New Mexicans can cast ballots and that their votes will be accurately counted. It’s hard to think of a nobler pursuit.
And this week Wood and the rest of us got a telling reminder of its importance.
Wood was among more than 177,000 people informed that the state had identified them as “non-residents and non-voters” and had begun the process of removing their voting rights. It apparently didn’t matter that the state’s own records, published on an official website, confirm that she’s voted in 44 elections (that’s right, 44) since 1992, including one earlier this year.
“I’m just shocked that I took my job to fight for other people’s right to get their vote counted, and now I’m having to fight for my own,” Wood said in an interview with ProgressNow New Mexico.
A letter from New Mexico Secretary Dianna Duran demanded that Wood and the other targets, who together represent 14 percent of New Mexico’s voting population, complete and return a postcard providing their current home and mailing addresses. “You may be required to confirm your current address at the polls on Election Day if this card is not returned,” it warned.
Note the use of the word “may.” Because of past problems with its voter rolls, New Mexico is under a federal order restricting voter purges until at least 2014. That means Duran’s suggestion that those who fail to return the cards might not get to vote is questionable at best, said Viki Harrison, director of Common Cause New Mexico.
Rather than an actual purge, the secretary of state’s initiative appears to be an effort at what veteran voting rights activists call “voter caging.” Its perpetrators seek to depress voter turnout or invalidate votes by creating barriers, or what appear to be barriers, to the ballot box for people who’re legally entitled to vote.
“This is part of a continual pattern of voter suppression,” Harrison said. And it comes from an official who just three months before Election Day might reasonably be expected to be busy trying to encourage voting, not depress it.
Harrison notes that Duran’s office cited budget constraints in explaining how it ran short this summer of the cards the state uses to record new voter registrations. The lack of cards may keep thousands of potential voters from getting on the rolls, but Duran somehow found the money needed to mail out 177,000 purge warnings, along with postcards to be returned at public expense.
Sadly, these sorts of shenanigans are becoming common across the country, pushed mostly by Republican governors and state legislators who insist – despite a striking lack of evidence – that a wave of voter fraud threatens the integrity of U.S. elections. It’s increasingly clear that their real intent is to limit turnout among largely Democratic constituencies like students, recent immigrants, the elderly and handicapped.