New Mexico secretary of state contest turns to election confidence

Algernon D'Ammassa
Las Cruces Sun-News
From left: New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat seeking her second full term in 2022; and Republican challenger Audrey Trujillo.

This story was updated to clarify the procedure for requesting absentee ballots in New Mexico.

On Nov. 8, New Mexico voters will elect the state's top elections official, who also oversees an office responsible for business services, notary commissions and other services.

The incumbent, Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver, is seeking her second full term in office, having served since winning a special election in 2016. She faces Republican candidate Audrey Trujillo, making her first run for statewide office after winning an uncontested primary, and who has alternately expressed denial or skepticism about the 2020 presidential election.

Libertarian candidate Mayna Erika Myers will also appear on the ballot but has made no filings other than a financial disclosure statement in February and did not respond to queries from the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver (incumbent)

Toulouse Oliver, a Santa Fe Democrat, served as Bernalillo County Clerk from 2007 through 2016, the year she won a special election to replace Republican Secretary of State Dianna Duran. She won a full term in 2018. In 2020, she launched a primary campaign for an open U.S. Senate seat following the retirement of Sen. Tom Udall, but later withdrew.

Maggie Toulouse Oliver

Toulouse Oliver said she is seeking her second full term as New Mexico's top elections official because "we have more work to do. I want to leave a legacy of really successful systems in office that can serve for a long time and serve the next administration."

The office is also responsible for an array of business services, documentation and official actions including trademarks, notary commissions, lobbyist registration and more.

She acknowledged, however, that after nearly two years of disinformation and propaganda about the 2020 presidential election, the campaign is primarily about the security and integrity of the election process, citing "myths and disinformation and outright lies that are being perpetuated around elections in general and elections in New Mexico."

This year, her office launched a web page challenging numerous questions about electoral processes, ballot confidentiality, security of voter data, post-election audits, and citizenship requirements among other questions. It also takes aim at "2000 Mules," a film frequently cited by election deniers that has been refuted by election experts and independent fact-checkers.

Toulouse Oliver said her administration is pursuing an overhaul of the state's business filing system from internal administration processes to how online applications work with new online services available next year. She also plans to advocate for updated statutes pertaining to corporations in New Mexico.

She said a new campaign finance reporting system "is not working the way we want it to do," and that a refresh to make it more user friendly for those researching campaign contributions and to respond more quickly to noncompliance with required reporting and deadlines.

Even before 2020, her advocacy for making voting processes simpler has led to debate and political pushback, as when she implemented straight-party voting permitting voters to select candidates from a single party across a ballot with one option. The state Supreme Court blocked the move, ruling that Toulouse Oliver did not have the authority to make the change independently of the legislature.

This year, she and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a fellow Democrat, backed a package of election measures including making Election Day a state holiday, improving security for election workers, restoring voting rights to some people convicted of felonies and allowing 16-year-olds to vote in local elections. 

"We have work to do to make sure we run an accessible, fair election with integrity," she said in an interview, "and so every minute we have to spend pushing back on the lies and the myths and disinformation is a minute taken away from what is already incredibly hard, time-consuming work."

In a recent poll, Toulouse Oliver had the advance support of 46 percent of respondents compared to 35 percent for her Republican opponent. She has also raised far more money in campaign funds, finishing the most recent reporting period with a balance of $237,611 compared to Trujillo's $26,366.

Audrey Trujillo

Trujillo, a Corrales resident, has previously been a Republican primary candidate for the state House of Representatives and is making her first bid for statewide office after running unopposed in her primary this year.

Audrey Trujillo, the Republican candidate for New Mexico Secretary of State in 2022, is seen in a campaign photo.

The theme of her campaign is "election integrity," and she alleged in an interview that public confidence in New Mexico election processes is generally low and that she would "build back the confidence."

In an interview, Trujillo was critical of drop boxes allowing voters to drop off absentee ballots at polling places and claimed that some voters were getting absentee ballots in the mail without requesting them, although under state election law voters must complete an application requesting them.

Trujillo has the endorsement of the America First SOS Coalition, which promotes secretary of state candidates who question the 2020 election. The coalition's leader is Jim Marchant, a candidate for secretary of state in Nevada, who selected the slate of "America First" candidates aligned with former Republican President Donald Trump and who have refuted the legitimacy of his 2020 loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

When speaking to conservative interviewers on video platforms such as Rumble and shared on Facebook, Trujillo has referred to the 2020 election as a “coup” and aired spurious theories about election rigging and hacking of tabulation machines. She frequently urges voters to cast their ballots in person and insist on having their ballots tabulated by hand rather than a mechanical tabulator.

When asked outright about 2020, however, Trujillo conceded that Biden was president but expressed doubt in the process and called the outcome "questionable."

"The process was played out," she said. "I don't know what happened with the voting, if there was legitimate voting (or) if there were machines involved." She alluded to an unsubstantiated theories of improprieties involving tabulating machines.

Elaborating on why she felt the outcome was in doubt, Trujillo pointed to reduced public campaigning by Democrats during 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic: "We had so many people working hard on one end, and one side didn't even show up, and yet the one side didn't show up wins. Do you know what I'm saying? It was questionable, for me."

Biden earned nearly 100,000 more votes than Trump in New Mexico, winning the state by 11 percentage points.

Trujillo refused the label of "election denier," saying, "The people voted. Joe Biden is our president."

"I just want to improve the system we have in place; I'm not here to recreate the wheel," she continued. "But if there are questions on those machines, we're going to do our damnedest to do our research and see how we can do it a better way and an easier way."

Last week, Trujillo withdrew an online offer to $100 donors to her campaign for a chance to win a firearm, which appeared to violate a state ban on raffles as fundraisers for candidates. The campaign said it canceled the offer to make sure it was in compliance.

Mayna Erika Myers

New Mexico is a three-party state, with the Libertarian Party holding major party status since Gary Johnson's 2016 presidential run. A few Libertarian candidates are seeking statewide office on Nov. 8, including Myers, of Hobbs.

Myers, identifying herself as a retail store manager in a financial disclosure form, did not respond to several interview requests from the Sun-News. She has not filed any campaign reports and does not appear to be actively campaigning for the office.

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Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, adammassa@lcsun-news.com or @AlgernonWrites on Twitter.