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.”
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 Secretary of State has reached a verbal agreement to settle this matter, and the parties are working to memorialize the agreement in writing,” Linda Bachman, director of legislative and executive affairs for the secretary of state’s office, told The Daily Signal in an email after this story was initially published. “The SOS maintains that it did not violate the requirements of the Inspection of Public Records Act, but deemed it in the best interest of the Office and the public to settle this disputed claim without incurring further litigation costs.”
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.
This story was updated to include a comment from Linda Bachman, the director of legislative and executive affairs for the New Mexico Office of Secretary of State.
Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.