Deceptive Training for Poll Watchers Investigated in New Mexico

PHOTO: I Voted stickers sit on a table on Wednesday, Oct. 24, 2012.
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Poll watchers claim to observe polling place practices to ensure that rules are followed on Election Day.

But undercover video shows the Republican party training poll watchers in suspicious tactics that could restrict the voting rights of New Mexicans in November.

The video, recorded in September by Progress Now New Mexico, shows Pat Morlen, vice chair of the Sandoval County Republican Party, training attendees on ID requirements at the polls, the use of provisional ballots, and how to assist Spanish-speaking voters, among other topics.

There are a number of errors, from suggesting that voters labeled "inactive" will need to cast provisional ballots (they will be able to cast regular ballots) to the assertion that police will "ensure the election is legit" (election officials will have this job, not police).

The trainer goes on to claim in the video that interpreters will not be present for Spanish-speaking voters, and she is not sure whether polling places will provide Spanish-language ballots.

This is blatantly wrong. Assistance for non-English speakers is offered, as are ballots in Spanish.

The trainer also says that New Mexico voters mush show a physical ID.

While first-time voters who registered by mail and did not send in a copy of their ID with their registration will need to show ID, other voters will not. If the ID has a photo, it does not need to show an address. Utility bills, bank statements and paychecks will also be accepted. And if voters cannot provide an acceptable form of ID, they may make a written or verbal statement of their name, date of birth and Social Security number and they will be allowed to vote.

The trainer repeatedly referenced an inaccurate poll challenger, another term for poll watcher, guide as well.

Progress Now New Mexico notes that, "If the attendees of these trainings - and trainings likes these that have occurred or will occur - attempt to challenge votes because of what they learned, it could lead to many problems at the polls and has the potential to disenfranchise voters who have a legal, legitimate right to exercise their civic duty on Election Day."

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King put out a statement following the release of the video, and noted in an updated statement that it has resulted in an investigation.

"I will not tolerate voter suppression efforts by anyone, period," King said in the original October 9 statement. "We have received a number of complaints since last Friday that there seems to be a concerted effort afoot to discourage some New Mexicans from exercising their right to vote this November. My office is committed to helping ensure fair elections by working to put an immediate stop to such misinformation and publicly correcting what has already been disseminated."

Phil Sisneros, a spokesman for King, said the investigation is ongoing and that there is no new information available at this time.

"Keep in mind, to qualify as voter intimidation the violator must actually commit the infraction against an actual voter," Sisneros added, via email.

Congressman Steve Pearce (R-NM) told The Nation he supports checking for ID even though he acknowledged it is against the law to check for ID.

"We're simply saying that we're going to start, we're going to take it back it into our hands," he said. "We should check for ID since you have to show an ID to do anything in America."

The reporter pushed Pearce on the fact that it's illegal several times, and it might cause confusion to tell people they need it even when they don't.

"It all comes down to judges and all that stuff - that's sort of out of my area," he said.

Following the publication of the video, the Republican Party agreed to modify their training. A staffer from Progress Now New Mexico attempted to attend one of the trainings but was met at the door by David Harris of True the Vote, who reportedly denied him entry, claiming it was a private Republican Party event.

Santiago Wills contributed to this report.

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