While submitting a routine request for information necessary to conduct normal business, the Democratic Party of New Mexico uncovered a thinly veiled attempt by someone in the Republican Administration of Governor Susana Martinez to intentionally block the emails of DPNM staffers.
Access to the Voter File, the official list of New Mexico voters, is controlled by the Secretary of State’s office. The Secretary of State (SOS) is required by law to provide an accurate and up-to-date voter file to political parties so that they and members of their party are able to reach out to voters and constituents. Secretaries of State are affiliated with a political party when seeking office, but upon securing office, are expected to oversee and administer transparent, unbiased elections, in addition to providing the Voter File.
In July 2015, the Democratic Party of New Mexico confirmed it had been blacklisted from the Secretary of State’s office, and subsequently the entire State of New Mexico government servers.
The issue was brought to the attention of a member of the Bureau of Elections in mid-July, In the interim DPNM staffers were forced to use their personal email addresses to conduct business with the state. These emails were not blocked.
On July 15, DPNM staff also submitted IPRA requests to over 30 government agencies requesting to view documents regarding Republican Governor Susana Martinez. The extent of the blacklist was not yet known until replies to emails sent from ALL state agencies bounced back with an error message “553- Sorry your email address (read: email address) has been blacklisted.”
After having raised the issue with staff in the Secretary of State’s office and being rebuffed, DPNM turned over the rejected emails to a reporter with the Associated Press and asked if there might be something that would merit further investigation. Before turning over the documents, DPNM consulted with the DNC press and legal teams to ensure that this was a unique instance, that other State Parties across the country had not experienced similar problems when attempting to contact their respective state governments.
Once the AP began asking questions, the response from the administration was mixed. First, it was to deny being made aware of the issue, then stated that they had resolved the blacklisting – even going as far as to send DPNM an email stating that we had been removed from the blacklist by the State IT department. The story changed later when the problem was blamed on DPNM servers, and members of the Administration made the assertion that DPNM had somehow blacklisted itself, then suddenly, without any action of its own, the issue was resolved by the state IT department.
“It is outrageous for the Democratic Party to imply that the Secretary of State’s office would prevent anyone from accessing public voter information,” said SOS spokesman Ken Ortiz on August 12.
However, an email from the State IT Department tells a different story. “The issue should be resolved,” Chris Pacheco told DPNM Staff August 10. “NMDemocrats.org email domain is now white-listed for sending emails to the State of New Mexico Email System.”
The Santa Fe New Mexican even enlisted the help of a “forensic researcher,” Pierson Clair to corroborate the Administration’s assertion that the fault indeed was that of DPNM. Clair said that in this case the problem stemmed from the fact that state Democrats had set up the party’s domain name at Bluehost, a large hosting company, and used Google’s Gmail, instead of Bluehost’s email service. That caused some emails to be treated as spam.
“There is no scandal here,” Clair said. “It is more that the [New Mexico] Democrats don’t know how to set up their domain name.”
Clair said he was 100 percent positive in his assessment of the problem in the article. “At no time did this office block, blacklist, or attempt to limit communications in anyway,” Ortiz said in the New Mexican article. “The accusation is outrageous and is disappointing. Ultimately the issue was resolved the same day by the Department of Information Technology (DoIT), the Department that administers all state government email.”
DPNM Officials remained skeptical and hired an IT Firm to test the state email system with a domain configured exactly like the Democratic Party of New Mexico, and could not replicate the blacklist response.
“Pierson Clair ran 1 set of tests, probably at MX Tools, saw the error and just assumed that since it was possible that the SMTP error could cause a block result on a few specific system configurations, it must be the case,” said the firm hired by DPNM. “Blocked does not mean Blacklisted and the Symantic Cloud system is not configured to even Block for the SMTP error unless the sender’s SPF record instructs it to. Yours does no such thing.”
The firm ran the same tests first, saw the possibility and immediately started checking the actual specific system configurations involved here, to see if everything matched up to make that possibility a reality. They didn’t.
“Another fact is that the SPF record includes “+mx” indicating any DNS MX resource record that is listed
for the domain should be allowed to send on their behalf,” said the firm hired by DPNM. “Google is registered, and that flag in the SPF record comes first, giving it a higher precedence than the last and final option of allowed senders.”
State IT employee Chris Pacheco admitted exactly how this all came about when he said, “The nmdemocrats.org email domain is now white-listed for sending emails,” to the state email system.
There is only one Anti Spam filter in the Symantic Cloud System that can be changed by white-listing a domain; the Custom blocked senders list. From its own product page, “You can define a list of IP addresses, domains, or email addresses that you recognize as sources of spam or other unwanted email.”
Analysis: “DPNM was blocked by the State’s private block list. The email expert in LA did not look deep enough. You were right.”
We believe, and our investigation shows, that the Martinez Administration knew that it had blacklisted the DPNM. After our thorough investigation, it is clear that the blacklisting was intentional. As such, the culprits who enacted this juvenile ploy need to be identified and appropriate discipline should be administered. This behavior is beneath the level of professionalism and accountability that we should expect from our state government. The Democratic Party of New Mexico stands strong for the voters of New Mexico and will always demand fairness when it comes to voting rights.