Citizen investigation reveals problems with 382 out of 1,493 ballots in January 2019 Off-Road-Vehicle special election

by Kathleen Sloan | January 17, 2020
6 min read
​The Secretary of State’s Office would not investigate irregularities in the City of Truth or Consequences’ Off-Road-Vehicle special election held a year ago, spurring citizen-activist Diana Tittle to conduct her own investigation. 

She turned up possible voter fraud, one person voting twice, missing signatures, possible voting by nonresidents and other problems that should have disqualified or triggered closer examination of 382 out of the 1,493 voter-return envelopes, keeping them sealed and the ballots inside. 

The election turned on 69 votes in favor of allowing the vehicles on City Streets, so Tittle’s findings call into question the election results. 

It was the City’s first all-mail-in-ballot election, which straddled the State’s overhaul of the election laws, resulting in a new law requiring all special elections be done by mail. The City’s special election fell under the old law, but even those safeguards were not followed. 

It’s too late to recount the ballots. The ballots are anonymous and after separation from the envelope, can’t be matched to a voter, making the before-opening examination of the envelope the only security control in a mail-in-ballot election. The voter-return envelopes were the evidence Tittle relied on in her investigation.  

Tittle was an “election observer,” spending 12 hours on Election Day mid-January 2019, watching the handling of the envelopes and ballots. She filed a timely complaint, along with citizen-activist Ron Fenn. The Secretary of State did nothing, detailed in the Sierra County Sun’s article: “SECRETARY OF STATE DIDN’T INVESTIGATE ELECTION COMPLAINTS, TOOK TORC CITY CLERK’S WORD”. 

With further evidence laid out in her recent investigation, Tittle is calling for the Secretary of State to confirm her investigation results, as well as the Attorney General’s Office. She wants election law to be enforced where wrongdoing is found. She wants the Secretary of State to ensure local elections are secure.

She has also asked the Secretary of State to use her investigation results into the City’s special election as a case study for tightening up election law. It still has holes, she said, despite the revamping.  

The following, broken down by subject, reveals what Tittle found: 


State election law says the Secretary of State is to provide the outer and inner envelopes for mail-in elections. The law requires the voter-return envelope have a security flap to cover four pieces of voter information: Name, signature, voter-registration address and the voter’s year of birth (not date, just the year to prevent identity theft). 

Under the security flap of the return-voter envelope is the affidavit portion of the envelope. 
Pre-printed under the flap is the “Oath of Registered voter.” The voter swears the information provided is true and they are registered to vote in the local election and they will not vote twice or as someone else. 

Pre-printed under the flap is also the voter’s registration address and a bar code. The bar code, when scanned, gives the voter’s name and registration address. There are spaces to print one’s name, give one’s year of birth and a signature line. 

To violate the voter’s oath is a fourth-degree felony. 

State law also says only the voter may “subscribe” the envelope. 

The voter-return envelopes were inadequate and didn’t follow the state requirement. There was no space under the security flap for the voter to write, and thereby attest to, their voter-registration address. Instead, the state had the registered-voter address already printed on the envelope. 
On the face of the voter-return envelope was the City Clerk’s Office address and in the upper-left corner the usual lines for the return address. Below the return address space was a box to check if the return address was a new address. 

Many voters live in two or more places throughout the year, but may only vote in the local election if their Truth or Consequences address is their main address. 

Tittle compared the return address to the voter-registration address and the alternative-mailing address (if the voter had two abodes but still voted in TorC) that was on the official “signature voter roster.” If the return address didn’t match either address, she tried to determine if the person had moved and was no longer supposed to be voting in the local election. 

Tittle found 22 envelopes with voter-provided addresses that didn’t match the voter-register information, indicating they moved without notifying the County Clerk.  Clearly the election judges, who were supposed to make a similar examination, did not do so, or missed a lot of envelopes. 


In 7 instances, the voter’s spouse used their husband’s or wife’s envelope. No one may vote for another, not even a husband or wife. 

Tittle found 2 more instances in which some other person besides the spouse used the envelope. 

Again, it appears the election judges didn’t examine the envelopes. 


Election law requires the return envelope have a space for the voter’s year of birth. It is a check to ensure the person using the envelope and placing the ballot inside is the intended voter. 

Tittle found 308 envelopes with no year. 

The election judges should have put them aside and verified the voter’s identity. 


Election law requires the voter to sign the return envelope, not only to affirm the voter’s oath, but also as a point of comparison. If there is a question of fraud, the signature can be compared to the signature on voter-registration card. 

Tittle found 16 envelopes without signatures, all of which should have been rejected and left unopened by the election judges, the ballots uncounted. 

In addition, Tittle spot-checked 33 signatures that were illegible, comparing them with the voter-registration-card signature. She found 6 that did not match. 


Tittle found 15 return envelopes filled out by a “very distinctive hand,” with mostly illegible or infirm signatures on them, all for residents at the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home or Sierra Hill Assisted Living. 

State law says a very close family member or official caregiver may deliver the sealed envelope by hand or by mail to the City Clerk. The voter is supposed to fill out the envelope. 


Tittle found one pre-printed voter-return envelope filled out and signed by a voter. She found the same voter filled out a second return envelope that was not pre-printed. 

If a person contacts the City Clerk and claims they did not get their mailed ballot, the City Clerk is supposed to void the mailed ballot, have the person fill out an affidavit swearing they will not vote twice and then issue a provisional ballot, to be checked during the count for a double vote. 

Evidently this person was given a blank voter-return envelope with a ballot inside by the City Clerk’s office. 

Tittle found one other envelope that was not pre-printed—without a voter-registration address or a bar code—that a voter was given and allowed to vote. 

Another envelope had the bar code but no pre-printed voter-registration address. 

In an all-mail-in election, only those on the Sierra County “voter signature roster” are mailed envelopes, the addresses based on voter-registration card information. Giving people blank envelopes with ballots inside removes this check. The City Clerk or election judges should have made a notation on the signature roster and the return envelope why blank envelopes were issued, as detailed in State law 1-6-14. 

Please see Tittle’s letter to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver for more detail on her second complaint and requested remedies, a side-bar to this article. 

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

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