Ethics Complaint Filed Against New Mexico Secretary of State for Attempting to Sabotage New Mexicans’ Right to Referendum Laws

June 16, 2023


Danny Snyder


This week a leader of the statewide referendum effort, Ramona Goolsby, filed an ethics complaint against the New Mexico Secretary of State for dereliction of duty, malicious abuse of process, and abuse of power. Goolsby also filed a judicial complaint against District 13 Judge, James Noel, for improperly closing a case dealing with the referendum, apparently for purposes of a media campaign to discredit the effort.

The complaints are the latest response by the organizers of the referendum effort to combat what they say are failures of the SOS to perform her duty to properly support the constitutional right of the people to challenge laws passed by the legislature at the ballot box.  The organizers allege that the SOS has purposely misinformed the public about the referendum process to serve her personal political agenda.

What is the Referendum Effort?

New Mexico Constitution, Article IV, Section 1 allows New Mexico citizens to challenge laws passed by the legislature when enough signatures in opposition are secured.  Once certain thresholds are met, the challenged laws are placed on the ballot for a vote by the people. Laws designated by the legislature for the “preservation of the public peace, health or safety” are exempt from the possibility of a referendum. It is important to note that none of the six laws being challenged were designated as such by the legislature — though it appears the SOS is now trying to feverishly bypass the legislature’s authority and retroactively argue the exemptions are applicable.

Four of the laws being challenged in the statewide referendum effort (HB 7, SB13, SB397, and HB 207) deal with (1) the unrestricted access to abortion and transgender services to minors of any age, (2) punishment of teachers and state employees who inform parents of their child’s participation in these services, (3) use of taxpayer dollars to provide abortion and transgender services on school grounds, and (4) prohibition of faith-based public service providers from refusing or limiting services based on gender identity or sexual orientation.

Two of the laws being challenged deal with elections (SB 180, HB 4) and have previously been covered in depth by the Estancia News. Some of the most controversial provisions of the election bills include forcing all counties to use internet-connected pollbooks, preventing the release of all election records to the public which were previously considered public documents, mandating the use of drop boxes in all counties, automatic voter registration, creation of a permanent absentee ballot list, giving the SOS unrestricted access to tax information, and allowing the clerks to open ballot boxes without oversight.

The New Mexico constitution gives two paths to a referendum. The first path prevents the bills passed by the legislature from becoming law until they can be voted on by the people. This path requires the referendum organizers gather approximately 180,000 signatures within 90 days of the close of the legislative session – which will expire this week.

The second path requires referendum organizers to gather a smaller number of signatures — approximately 70,000 by July of 2024.  The challenged laws go into effect up and until their fate is determined on the next general election ballot.

According to the organizers, thousands of volunteers are working statewide and should have no problem collecting the number of signatures needed to meet the July 2024 deadline. More information on the referendum effort can be found here.

Questionable Conduct by the SOS and AG

Slow-Walking Paperwork

Ramona Goolsby alleges in her ethics complaint that the SOS has purposely failed to perform her duty to support citizens who legally initiated the referendum process. Goolsby alleges the SOS is serving her own political agenda and attempting to weaponize the judicial process and the press against the citizens they took an oath to serve.

The ethics complaints detail the correspondence between the referendum sponsors and the SOS’s office going back to March 2023. The organizers submitted initial forms for approval to the SOS and AG in late March for the first bills the effort is challenging. The forms contained all the items listed in the statutes as being required. The SOS responded to the submissions in several iterations refusing to approve the forms because of complaints about things like punctuation and placement of citations.

In late April, the SOS gave a statement to left-leaning press stating: “To date, following the 2023 Legislative Session, the Secretary of State has not received a single petition that meets even the basic technical requirements as to form under [New Mexico] law.”

In early May, after smearing the effort in left-leaning media and using up half the time available for the grassroots effort to meet the first deadline, the SOS finally provided the organizers with an “Official Example” of an acceptable referendum signature form.

“The SOS’s statement to the press was nothing but a smear,” Goolsby told the Estancia News. “The only difference between the forms we had already submitted several times and the “Official Example” was formatting. There was no difference in technical requirements. If the SOS was acting in good faith, she would have provided the official example of the form back in March after our initial submissions.”

According to Larry Marker, another referendum leader, even after the SOS provided the “Official Example” and approved a form of the petition, she later disapproved them. Marker believes the SOS is purposely creating chaos to neutralize citizen efforts to pursue the referendum process. Marker reported that this is not the first time the SOS has attempted to prevent a referendum effort from going forward by running out the clock with back and forth over paperwork.

Goolsby stated, “The reason I filed the ethics complaint against the SOS is that she is being dishonest with the courts and dishonest with the public. I think she has become used to saying things that aren’t true and people don’t question her and go along with it. New Mexicans are fed up with being lied to and having their rights dismissed by the elected class who are supposed to be working for us.”

Hiding Public Information

The Albuquerque Journal reported that the SOS directed county clerks not to provide voter lists to the referendum organizers. Current voter lists must be turned in with the referendum signatures according to statute, but the SOS has told clerks not to provide lists ostensibly to prevent the referendum organizers from fulfilling the statutory requirements to get the referendum on the ballot.

This is surprising, as a federal judge ruled last year that the voter lists could be published online and stated that the SOS attempting to prevent dissemination of the list was an unconstitutional prior restraint on protected free speech.

Pablo Martinez, a Zuni tribal member and referendum leader in the Gallup area, states: “I was blown away when I heard the SOS was hiding the current voter lists from the referendum effort. Late last year I walked into the SOS’s office and asked if I could have the statewide lists as a tribal member. They sent me the statewide list for free. I don’t understand how the SOS is justifying hiding the list now from the referendum effort. It’s like she only gives the lists to people who she thinks agree with her and hides it from those she sees as opposition. That is unfair and a bad look for someone who is supposed to be impartially fulfilling the duties of her office. It seems illegal.”

SOS Makes up The Law

Running out the clock, hiding public information, and quibbling over font size is not the only tactic the SOS is using to shut down the effort. In an interview on a local podcast called CAT Chats, organizer Larry Marker believes Toulouse Oliver has adopted a new tactic to attempt to shut the referendum down. She has unilaterally declared the laws being challenged are exempt from the referendum because she claims they are for the “preservation of public peace, health, and public safety.”

According to Marker, this argument is bogus because New Mexico law requires three specific criteria to designate any law as being for the preservation of peace, health, and public safety. “The first is [the law] has to receive a two-thirds vote in both chambers…. The second is [the law] has to be effective immediately upon approval. That means as soon as the governor signs it, it goes into effect….The third is within the text of the law [the legislature] has to state it’s for the preservation of peace, health, and safety and it is to go into effect immediately on approval.”

Marker said the laws being challenged don’t meet any of the three criteria, but the SOS is claiming the laws are exempt from a referendum anyway. Marker believes that the SOS is used to not being challenged when she has exceeded her authority, but the people are not going to allow her to slow them down and they will proceed with the referendum effort in accordance with the statutes as they are written.

There are currently six lawsuits filed across the state for each of the laws being challenged.  They ask the court to rule on the whether the SOS can unilaterally designate laws up for referendum as “exempt” absent the statutory requirement that the legislature expressly classify the laws as such.

“She’s encroaching on the legislative authority to designate laws as exempt from referendum,” said Marker. For this reason, Marker has filed an emergency motion for the court to join the New Mexico legislature as involuntary plaintiffs in the cases. If that request is granted, joining the legislature to the lawsuits will make it significantly more difficult for the SOS to continue to make claims in court which have no basis in law.

Last week the SOS released a statement on social media reading, “It is very disappointing that New Mexicans are being misled about the referendum petition process by certain groups and individuals. But I’m pleased to see the court clarify this matter today with their ruling in favor of our position that the laws currently being targeted for referendum are, in fact, exempted from the referendum process. This is a win for the rule of law and all New Mexicans.”

Ramona Goolsby, one of the plaintiffs in these cases, said this about the SOS’s statement: “The SOS’s press release blatantly misrepresents the truth. The case was improperly closed before all required filings were submitted and had to be reopened. This case is also just one of six cases for each of the laws being challenged – no judge has yet considered the merits of these cases.”

Goolsby continued, “We are very disappointed that the SOS has not been willing to work with any of the grassroots organizations that have reached out to her. She continues to openly block a constitutional right the citizens of New Mexico were provided with by the founders of this great state. Her attitude smacks of elitism which is not sitting well with the average New Mexican.”

Goolsby filed a judicial complaint with the Judicial Standards Commission alleging that by closing the case before all filings had been made that Judge Noel violated NMRA Rule 21-300, Section 7 which states, “A judge shall accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding…the right to be heard according to law.”

SOS Shenanigans are Not New

The Estancia News reached out to Erin Clements, a New Mexico expert on election vulnerabilities, for her thoughts on the tactics being employed against the referendum effort. Clements responded with the following:

“Unfortunately, what we are seeing being used against the referendum by the captured media and the SOS are exactly what we faced with the Otero County Audit that was completed last year. As soon as the Otero County Commission voted to audit their own election, the SOS’s office started peppering them with threatening letters that stated they had no authority to audit the election.  The SOS told the Commission they would be prosecuted if they touched their own election machines. The State Auditor went on national media to announce that he had opened an investigation into the appropriation of the money for the audit. It was all bogus and we fought through each hurdle by pointing the commission to their authority under state statute. The SOS and State Auditor didn’t have a leg to stand on and they knew it, but they also knew how to wield the media to attempt to discredit the effort.

Another ludicrous thing we faced was an all-out smear campaign by the SOS, and local and national media over the door-to-door canvass that was part of the commissioned audit. The SOS issued inflammatory press releases and statements on social media claiming voters were being intimidated by simple questions about the accuracy of the voter rolls. She made all of it up, but it resulted in an unhinged activist physically attacking one of our canvassers in a grocery store, and I was the target of dozens of threatening and abusive phone calls. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives even got involved to write a letter threatening the prime contractor for the audit which ended in him quitting the project since his legal bills were going to surpass his consulting fee. The SOS lied in a public announcement claiming the audit had been canceled, when the reality was the prime contractor was simply replaced by other equally qualified national experts who would not be intimidated.  The audit was completed on schedule in August of last year and showed very damning evidence about the election system.

The Otero Commission resolved to stop using Dominion machines and sue the SOS for failing to properly certify an election system because of the audit. Following that vote, the SOS and radical leftists started mercilessly attacking Commissioner Couy Griffin.  He was removed from office by a far-left Santa Fe judge, even though activists in Otero County were not able to get enough signatures to have a recall election. The other commissioners towed the line after that.

It’s a shame that officials and some judges who swore to uphold New Mexico’s constitution act like radical activist bullies instead of public servants. It’s one of the many reasons this referendum effort is so important. The people of New Mexico need to reclaim their constitutional right to govern themselves,”

Erin Clements, Election Vulnerabilities Expert

Referendum has Massive, Statewide, and Bipartisan Support

The organizers of the referendum report unprecedented support from a diverse range of citizens. They say citizens of New Mexico see the laws being challenged as unprecedented attacks on parental rights and honest elections which they say are nonpartisan issues.

“This thing really took off. We’ve got major support. All of the larger churches in the state of New Mexico have jumped on board. We have pastors actually announcing it from the pulpit. I’ve never seen anything like this in New Mexico.” Marker reported in another podcast viewed by thousands.

“Many people have no idea that the legislature has attempted to erode elections and parental rights to the extent that they have. When people find out what these new laws are about, they sign the petitions enthusiastically. Many also ask if they can help us gather more signatures, so we now have over 50 people gathering signatures in our county,” said Sarah Smith from Dona Ana County.

Freddie Lopez is lead for the referendum effort in Santa Fe County where he lives. We asked him to tell us what kind of reception he has been getting in New Mexico’s most liberal county. “This Referendum is not a partisan issue because these laws affect each and every one of us. It doesn’t matter what your political affiliation is because this Referendum gives every New Mexican a voice. Even in Santa Fe, we are seeing so much support for the Referendum as many registered Democrats have signed the petitions. Santa Fe may be very Democratic, but many do not agree with these laws and are taking action.”

Get Involved

The referendum organizers request any members of the public who want to get involved in the referendum effort to go to this website for contact information, news, and copies of the signature forms:

Written by Danny Snyder