New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver recently issued an op-ed pledging to protect voters’ privacy. The hypocrisy of Secretary Oliver ensuring New Mexicans right to privacy is almost comical. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
In the Albuquerque Journal, Secretary Oliver wrote about how she was denying a request by the Commission on Election Integrity to obtain voter registration information:
“As the chief election official of this state, my first priority in the face of any request for personal data is to protect New Mexico voters and their privacy.”
Despite this statement, Secretary Oliver is undermining her “priority” of protecting the privacy of New Mexicans by proposing a rule that would do the exact opposite of what she has pledged to do. Under this rule, the government would force private citizens to report their personal data for supporting a cause they believe in. The proposed rule places a chilling effect on citizens’ free speech–Governor Martinez wisely vetoed a similar anti-free speech legislation earlier this year.
This disclosure law is a blatant assault on the freedom of association and speech. Bradley Smith, chairman of the Center for Competitive Politics, and Paul Gessing highlight some of the perils of the Secretary’s anti-free speech measure in an op-ed in The New Mexican:
“The secretary of state’s proposed rules, however, would sweep up charities and their supporters as well. This isn’t just political speech. Just mention a candidate by name near any election and you’re at risk under the secretary’s proposed regulation.”
Secretary Oliver is correct on one account–the government should not compel disclosure of protected voting rights. However, Secretary Oliver is advocating for the government to violate its citizens’ protected speech by forcing them to release their information if they support a cause they believe in. Individual donors and individual voters should decide whether they want to disclose who they support, or voted for.
Political speech is at the core of our First Amendment rights. Justice Thomas illustrated in a free speech case the government has a long history of harassment. Consequently, that is one reason why the Founding Fathers understood the First Amendment as, “a protection of an individual’s right to express their thoughts on political candidates or issues in an anonymous fashion.”
Transparency should only apply to the government–disclosure laws serve only to empower the government. The government’s role is to make sure we have fair and safe elections. If Secretary Oliver truly cares about protecting New Mexico citizens’ privacy she needs to act on her words and abandon this anti-free speech measure.