PAC opposes same-day legislation

By Steve Terrell: The New Mexican

A Las Cruces political action committee is running ads on cable television warning viewers that bills allowing same-day voter registration would lead to vote fraud, including out-of-state people pouring in to cancel the vote of New Mexican citizens.

The ads, which began running last week on Comcast Cable systems in the state, are the work of Hispanos Unidos, which is headed by Victor S. Contreras, a management consultant, who said in an interview Tuesday that he’s concerned about voter fraud in his area. “We’ve seen busses of people (from out of state) coming here to vote,” he said.

Hispanos Unidos has only three formal members, including himself and his wife, Contreras said. He said he’s been a registered Republican since high school, though he said he never voted a straight ticket. The group is non-partisan, Contreras said. One member is a “young man who’s a registered Democrat.”

But supporters of same-day registration say reports of voter fraud are overblown and that the television spots are misleading and use fear tactics.

“It is deeply concerning that an organization chose to fund a baseless ad attacking legislation that promises to include New Mexican citizens in the voting process,” said Steve Allen, executive director of New Mexico Common Cause, in a written statement. Allen said the group’s “continued scare tactics have no place in New Mexico.”

Rep. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, who is sponsoring one of two same-day registration bills in the House, said, “the allegations of voter fraud in Dona Ana County have been made for years and are baseless.” He said the charges, made by Republicans in his area, “never brought up evidence of a single fraudulent vote or voter.”

Republican claims of massive voter fraud are what led to the ouster of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias after the 2006 election. Iglesias bucked state GOP leaders by saying he could find no evidence of major voter fraud. His firing led to the U.S. Attorney scandal that culminated with the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The two same-day registration bills include House Bill 52, sponsored by Rep. Jim Trujillo, D-Santa Fe, and HB395, sponsored by Cervantes. Trujillo said Tuesday his bill has been amended so that voters could not register on election day itself, but could register during early voting, which ends three days before the election. He said the House Voters and Elections Committee is scheduled to hear his bill on Thursday.

A bill that would require photo identification for voters, HB591, is sponsored by Rep. Diane Hamilton, R-Silver City.

Contreras said he spent about $4,500 to run the two spots, which he created himself at home with a computer and a $30 microphone.

The two, 30-second ads ask viewers to “Tell your legislator to vote no on election-day registration and yes on voter ID.”

One of the spots features upbeat Latin music.

“New Mexico encourages voter participation. Why, even the dead vote here,” it says. “Now our lawmakers want to pass a bill that will allow anyone to register and vote on election day. No ID required. Just show up and vote. And they will. People will come from far and wide to cast a ballot in New Mexico. And their votes will cancel ours.”

The other ad has the image of a masked burglar.

“How would you feel if a perfect stranger stole your vote? Our New Mexico lawmakers want to pass a bill that would allow anyone to register and vote on election day. No ID required, just a name. Maybe even your name. That means your name can be stolen by anyone with a phone book and any group with enough money and a phone book can decide our elections.”

Allen of Common Cause said the Contreras PAC “violated the Secretary of State’s disclosure reporting process by not reporting their expenditures within 48 hours”.

New Mexico law requires organizations that spend more than $2,500 “to conduct an advertising campaign for the purpose of lobbying” to register with the Secretary of State within 48 hours of the expenditure.

Contreras said Hispanos Unidos is following the laws related to PACs. He filed three finance reports with the state last year. The next report for PACs isn’t due until May 12.

Last year’s reports show his PAC raised $4,627. Of that, $2,900 went for another ad buy with Comcast in October. That was a spot endorsing a local Republican candidate in the last election, Contreras said.

Contact Steve Terrell at 986-3037 or