U.S. judge allows New Mexico voter rolls to be posted online

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — A conservative-backed initiative to publish nationwide voter rolls online for public consumption can go ahead despite objections from New Mexico election regulators, an order a federal judge in a preliminary opinion.

Albuquerque-based U.S. District Court Judge James Browning issued an order last Friday barring New Mexico state prosecutors from pursuing allegations of possible election code violations against the creators of VoteRef.com.

The VoteRef.com website provides searchable access to voter registration records by name and mailing address, often showing when people voted in previous elections.

Online records do not tell which candidates people voted for or how they voted on initiatives. Party affiliation is listed for voters in some states, but not all.

The Voter Reference Foundation, which created the website, advocates for accountability in voting by making voter information more accessible to the public.

Following the decision, the foundation announced that it will publish New Mexico’s voter rolls online beginning Tuesday.

The ruling does not apply to New Mexico voters enrolled in a confidential address program designed to protect victims of domestic violence and harassment.

New Mexico election regulators argue the effort violates state restrictions on the purchase and release of voter registration records — and is likely to discourage voter turnout because people can opt out if they know that some of their voting information is made public.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, referred the case to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution against the Voter Reference Foundation, which released New Mexico’s registration records. Mexico online at the time after obtaining them through an out-of-state agency. Company. State law limits the use of voter registration information to political campaigning and election- or government-related activities.

The foundation — backed by former GOP Senate candidate Doug Truax of Illinois — took its New Mexico records offline in response and sued the state in federal court, alleging violations of government safeguards. due process and freedom of expression.

The judge’s order blocks the lawsuits while the case moves to trial and said the Voter Reference Foundation is likely to prevail in its claim as a victim of perspective discrimination by election regulators. Browning said New Mexico state law “does not prohibit Voter Reference — or any organization — from publishing voter data online.”

The creators of VoteRef.com are “essentially likely to succeed on the merits of their contention that the Secretary of State’s referral of the voter’s reference to the Attorney General for criminal prosecution and his public statements about the referral constitute an unconstitutional prior restraint on protected expression,” Browning said.

Truax, founder of the Restoration of America organization which funds VoteRef.com, said his group “will not be intimidated by politicians who, for whatever reason, do not want to give people in their state easy access to records. electoral they pay”. for.” He advocates limiting voting access largely to in-person voting on Election Day with photo identification requirements and no same-day registration.

VoteRef.com already publishes voter registration information online for at least 28 states and Washington D.C.

Toulouse Oliver spokesman Alex Curtas called the judge’s opinion “a blow to the protection of the privacy rights of every New Mexican voter.”

“The fear now is that voters will be less likely to participate in our elections because their voting information – name, residential address, party affiliation, voting history and year of birth – will be readily available online for anyone to view. get them and potentially manipulate them,” Curtas said.

This year, some neighborhoods in New Mexico have been the subject of door-to-door calls by volunteers for a group called the New Mexico Audit Force that promotes unproven conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

The knocking on the door — ostensibly to check people’s individual voter registrations — has sparked concerns of voter intimidation and counterclaims of threats against canvassers.

Jacob L. Thornton