This morning, ProgressNow New Mexico, a left-leaning advocacy organization, released a video showing the a local Republican County party in New Mexico instructing its poll watchers to engage in what could be illegal voter suppression.

The poll watchers are told to request identification from voters, even though the law in New Mexico does not require voter ID. There are other troubling parts of the video and poll watcher instruction manual, including a call for poll watchers to instruct some voters to vote by provisional ballot even if they are registered correctly in their precinct. Poll watchers are told to deceive Spanish-speaking voters by telling them ballots that interpreters are not available, when in fact New Mexico law provides for language assistance for minorities and Spanish-language ballots.

At CPAC Colorado, a conservative conference today in Denver, I asked Congressman Steve Pearce, a Republican lawmaker who represents New Mexico, about the brewing controversy. 

“We’re simply saying that we’re going to start, we’re going to take it back it into our hands,” said Pearce. “We should check for ID since you have to show an ID to do anything in America.”

He did, however, admit that doing so would be against the law. “It’s against New Mexico law to check for ID,” the congressman conceded.

Wouldn’t having scores of Republican poll watchers requesting voter ID even though there’s no legal requirement for an ID cause confusion? “What do you think these poll watchers should do if someone refuses to show identification?” I asked.

“I just think we need to be asking the question,” replied Pearce. “I don’t think New Mexicans know how many people vote illegally.

I pressed him again. Wouldn’t it cause confusion with poll watchers telling people they need an ID to vote even though they don’t?

“It all comes down to judges and all that stuff—that’s sort of out of my area,” said Pearce.

Despite Pearce’s claim of widespread voter fraud in his state, New Mexico’s secretary of state, a Republican, released a report last year showing scant evidence of any instances where people acted on intent to commit fraud.

UPDATE: The state New Mexico GOP’s communications director, Jamie Dickerman, contacted the Nation to clarify that this poll watcher training was not authorized by the state party and only involved leaders of the Sandoval County Republican Party. "The State Party is looking into the matter and does not condone misinformation. We will work with the Sandoval County Party to correct the problem and make sure that we have fair elections this November." A spokesman for Congressman Pearce’s office says he had not seen the video when he spoke to the Nation, and now condemns it. 


Check out our Voting Rights Watch 2012 blog for more on the GOP’s voter suppression efforts.