EXCLUSIVE: New Mexico Pays Hefty Fee for Trying to Hide Voter Information

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FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office settled a public records lawsuit over voter records with a think tank, paying out a $22,000 settlement after initially denying access to voting information.

The Southwest Public Policy Institute announced first to The Daily Signal that it reached the settlement in its lawsuit over a denied request under the state’s Inspection of Public Records Act, the state’s equivalent to the Freedom of Information Act. 

“This is a message to all governing bodies. You are being watched and we do not take ignoring public records requests lightly,” SPPI President Patrick M. Brenner told The Daily Signal in a phone interview Thursday.

“Agencies usually stonewall or delay or reclassify a request, claiming it’s overly broad or overly burdensome,” Brenner continued. “But the secretary of state’s office tried to ignore our request.”

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The New Mexico secretary of state’s office did not immediately reply to The Daily Signal for comment for this story. Oliver, a Democrat first elected in 2016, previously served as the county clerk of Bernalillo County, a role where she also oversaw public records. 

The Southwest Public Policy Institute, a free-market research institute, focuses on policy in the American Southwest. The conservative group has offices in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, and Cedar Park, Texas.

The institute requested voter records from the secretary of state’s office, which oversees elections in the state. The records are open for public inspection upon request. 

“We were looking for voter records, all of which are subject to public inspection,” Brenner said. “We wanted to educate the public if we know which members of the public to educate.”

A state court rejected the New Mexico secretary of state’s office motion to dismiss the lawsuit. This led to the settlement, he said. 

Brenner said that public records custodians have become too comfortable with complacency and the settlement acknowledges the public’s right to access government records.

“Transparency is the cornerstone of a strong democracy and we will fight for it to the fullest extent of the law,” Brenner said. 

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