New Mexico’s top election official won’t disclose key information about a new electronic signature-verification system for putting candidates on the ballot, a lawsuit alleges just months after she settled a court case over lack of transparency. 

Last August, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver settled the public records dispute with a think tank over voting information for $22,000, after initially blocking access to documents. 

Last week, the same organization—the Southwest Public Policy Institute—sued again in New Mexico’s 13th Judicial District in Sandoval County over records regarding the state’s signature-verification portal. 

The think tank supports the Online Candidate Nominating Petition Signature Portal, which allows voters to use an electronic signature to help candidates qualify for the ballot. 

But more transparency is required from Oliver as New Mexico’s top election official, it says. 

“Here we go again. The secretary of state still hasn’t learned her lesson about government transparency,” Patrick M. Brenner, president of the Southwest Public Policy Institute, told The Daily Signal. “We made sure the [new] lawsuit holds her personally accountable in her capacity as secretary of state.”

The state Legislature approved the online portal last year, but it has had “growing pains,” Brenner said.

He said he has firsthand experience with those growing pains, getting two error messages when he tried to provide his signature on behalf of a candidate.

“The response was at first grammatically incorrect, but more importantly, it was factually incorrect,” Brenner said. “It said I already signed. That’s incorrect. We are investigating the error generation.”

New Mexico ranks 36th in the nation on The Heritage Foundation’s Election Integrity Scorecard, with a score of 51 out of 100. The state got low marks for allowing same-day voter registration, not enforcing voter ID, and not verifying citizenship. (The Daily Signal is the news and commentary outlet of The Heritage Foundation.)

New Mexico scores well on Heritage’s election scorecard for preventing illegal ballot harvesting, allowing election observers, and accurately counting votes. 

However, this week, Oliver announced that New Mexico was ranked as the top state in the nation by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Elections Performance Index. The state  had moved up eight spots since the 2018 election, she said. 

“Alongside my incredible staff and the tireless work of our 33 county clerks and their staffs, I’m proud to have helped modernize New Mexico’s elections by finding a critical balance between voter access and election security,” Oliver said of the MIT ranking in a public statement.

The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office didn’t respond to inquiries about the new litigation.

In the lawsuit, the Southwest Public Policy Institute asks the office for records on “e-nomination petition software” between Nov. 1, 2023, and Jan. 5, 2024. 

The suit cites Oliver’s “unreasonable failure” as secretary of state to provide a “complete and timely response” to the think tank’s Jan. 5 request for public records.  

After some communication, Oliver’s office got back to the think tank on March 1 and promised to “provide an updated response on or before March 15,” according to the lawsuit. 

But that response never came, the Southwest Public Policy Institute says, so it sued. 

The complaint seeks a court order requiring Oliver to “immediately permit inspection of all nonexempt public records” related to the think tank’s request and  awarding statutory damages of $100 per day, beginning last Jan. 20, until Oliver complies or explains a denial in writing.