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CAMPAIGN 2000

New Mexico GOP Assailed for Vote Fraud Reward Plan

Politics: An unreleased flier offering $20,000 for information on tampering draws state officials' scrutiny. Democrats see it as an effort to intimidate Latino voters.

October 18, 2000|HECTOR TOBAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A top election official in New Mexico charged Republican Party activists Tuesday with trying to intimidate voters in this highly contested state after a flier offering a $20,000 reward to those reporting voter fraud was leaked to her office.

Republican leaders said they had considered, but later decided against, offering the reward as part of an effort to fight potential voter fraud in predominantly Democratic counties, most of them in rural areas.

Those rural counties are also predominantly Latino. Denise Lamb, the state's election chief, called the reward a "bounty" designed to intimidate voters. "These are the kinds of things that happen when you're going to have a close election. People engage in what I consider very undemocratic tactics to make sure they win."

Lamb said she referred the matter to the voting rights division of the U.S. Justice Department because it reminded her of efforts to intimidate Latino voters in previous elections in New Mexico and California.

The chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, John Dendahl, said the release of the draft of the reward flier--titled "Fairvote 2000"--smacked of campaign dirty tricks. "We either have a mole in our organization or the Democrats have broken into our files electronically."

Dendahl said the flier was drafted as part of a Republican anti-fraud effort for election day. The party will establish a toll-free number for citizens to report "improprieties." Lawyers will staff the phones.

"We don't want the election stolen," Dendahl said. "The [Democratic] Party machine in New Mexico still controls a vast majority of our courthouses. We have to worry about ballot security."

Various state polls have shown the presidential race in New Mexico a dead heat, with a marked ethnic gap. Latino voters support Gore by 70% to 30%, according to a Sept. 28 poll by New Mexico State University. The same poll showed Bush winning among non-Latinos by 59% to 41%.

Democratic Party officials in New Mexico were quick to criticize the reward plan.

"This flier from the Republican Party is a scare tactic," said David Alire Garcia, a spokesman for the state Democratic Party's Coordinated Campaign. "It's designed to intimidate voters."

The flier offers a $20,000 reward for evidence of ballot tampering and a $5,000 reward for "information leading to the first conviction of an individual or individuals who engage in false voting. . . ." It lists a toll-free number to report any illicit activity.

Lamb, an appointee of Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron, a Democrat, said her office was sent the document anonymously. Asked if the reward plan violated any state laws, Lamb said it fell into a legal "gray" area.

"There's always a possibility that if someone has a cranky neighbor who dislikes them, are they going to turn them in for a reward?"

A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said the agency had received the material and was looking into the matter, but she declined further comment.

Dendahl was critical of officials at the secretary of state's office for commenting on the flier without contacting the Republican Party first for an explanation.

"We have not or are not putting up any [reward] money," Dendahl said. "That was something we had under consideration. We decided not to do it."

"There was a draft of a press release or something. It was clearly delivered to someone in the Democratic Party."

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