New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has been in the news for all the wrong reasons after announcing she will bring back straight-party voting to our general election ballots this November. The result so far? Seven counties are currently mulling resolutions opposing the straight-party voting option which could spur litigation in each county. And lawsuits have already been filed with the Supreme Court by a Democratic Party candidate, the Republican and Libertarian Parties of New Mexico, and Elect Liberty, PAC. So who is stuck with the legal bills when and if Toulouse Oliver’s latest political gamble doesn’t pay off? Well, you of course. The taxpayer.
So who is stuck with the legal bills when and if Toulouse Oliver’s latest political gamble doesn’t pay off? Well, you of course. The taxpayer.
And this won’t be the first time. Taxpayers got hosed when Toulouse Oliver incorrectly told Congressman Steve Pearce that state law prohibited him from transferring more than $900,000 left in his federal campaign account to his campaign for governor. In a move that surprised no one familiar with relevant election law precedents, the federal judge hearing the case ruled in Pearce’s favor. The case quickly settled thereafter at a discounted rate of what the Pearce side was truly entitled to. Regardless, Toulouse Oliver left taxpayers on the hook for $133,000 in attorney’s fees owed to the other side. Moreover, her decision left the Secretary of State’s Office scrambling for emergency funding to comply with the terms of the settlement agreement.
Those familiar with New Mexico’s legislative history regarding straight party ballots, know that the law permitting the option to “vote a straight party ticket in one operation” was repealed in 2001 by a democratically controlled legislature and signed off by then Governor Gary Johnson. Meaning, despite arguments to the contrary, Toulouse Oliver has no statutory authority to make a unilateral decision to disregard the will of, oddly her own political party, and by extension the people of New Mexico. The only thing made murky about the unambiguous nature of the repeal is why former democratic Secretaries of State, Rebecca Vigil-Giron and Mary Herrera, failed to take action in removing the straight ticket option during their collective nine years in office (2001- 2010). Their refusal to follow the will of the 2001 legislature, or perhaps ignorance on the issue, has brought about the specter that Toulouse Oliver has discretion to ignore election code as well.
Like Pearce’s lawsuit to force Toulouse Oliver to operate pursuant to election law, we once again are faced with a situation where the law is not on Toulouse Oliver’s side. And in predictable fashion, Toulouse Oliver’s needless and blatantly partisan electioneering battle, will all but certainly result in a similar outcome that harms taxpayers. This time, however, taxpayers will have to foot the bill for attorneys representing four different challengers instead of one.
Even Justice Gary Clingman, who is running for election in November, had the ethical wherewithal to recuse himself from presiding over this case because he is a candidate on November’s ballot. It appears Toulouse Oliver sees no conflict of interest or shame in changing the rules mid-campaign in an election she is participating in. Voters would be wise to give serious attention to the other major party candidates Gavin Clarkson (R), and recently announced Libertarian candidate, Ginger Grider, if restoring at least the appearance of impartiality to the Secretary of State’s Office is to be valued.
It appears Toulouse Oliver sees no conflict of interest or shame in changing the rules mid-campaign in an election she is participating in.
Finally, Libertarians who have recently attained major-party status need to take heed of Toulouse Oliver’s willingness to do what’s best for her and her party’s interest, if they want to keep that status. After Libertarian gubernatorial write-in candidate Bob Walsh failed to get enough signatures to land on the general ballot, sources close to Toulouse Oliver are taking the position that according to state law, the Libertarian Party must earn more than 5 percent of the total number of votes cast in a race for either governor or president to keep its major-party status. Ergo, with no Libertarian gubernatorial candidate on the ballot, Libertarians automatically go back to the minor leagues after this November. Meaning, guess what? More lawsuits to be borne by the taxpayer.
If this is, in fact, the position of Toulouse Oliver, Libertarian Party State Chairman Chris Luchini has already promised litigation. And it appears his promise has the force of law.
The reason being, is that state election code Section 1-7-7 does not provide that the above criteria that a gubernatorial candidate both run and exceed the 5% threshold be met. Rather, a major political party is established (and remains in good standing) when “any qualified political party, [when] any of whose candidates received as many as five percent of the total number of votes cast….” occurs.
Do you see the distinction? Top ranking Democratic Senator Tom Udall sure did. While Attorney General, he wrote a detailed opinion finding that “any candidate” means “any candidate.” Meaning the election code should be interpreted expansively under the clear text provided. As precedent, when the Green Party was a major party in New Mexico, it did not receive 5% for President in 1996, nor did it receive 5 percent for Governor in 1998, but New Mexico continued to recognize the Green Party as a major party after those elections because down ballot candidates Peggy Helgeson and Richard Haley respectively achieved 10.2 percent and 23.2 percent of the vote in 1998.
Let’s hope that Toulouse Oliver is sent a strong message both in the pending litigation before the Supreme Court, and in her election. We taxpayers, cannot afford to pay for her hyper-partisan legal battles, where there appears to be a wide-scale effort to suppress and marginalize voters that don’t belong to her tribe.