Welcome to our new web site!

To give our readers a chance to experience all that our new website has to offer, we have made all content freely avaiable, through October 1, 2018.

During this time, print and digital subscribers will not need to log in to view our stories or e-editions.

State’s top elections officer confronts AI fakery


Robocalls during election campaigns are nothing new, and the voice that greeted some New Hampshire voters on the phone last February sounded plausibly like a recorded message from President Joe Biden. But it wasn’t Biden, and the message conveyed false information about the primary election and discouraged voters from turning out.

New Mexico’s elections chief, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, called it a “wake up call” in an interview with the Las Cruces Bulletin.

In 2024, the prevalence of generative text and images has rapidly increased over the past few election cycles. “Deepfake” video imitations of people, manipulated photographic images and other deceptive materials have grown more sophisticated and difficult to spot without an eye for fine detail.

“We’re concerned about the potential impact on voters having accurate information about where, when and how they cast their ballots,” she said. “We decided that, going into this cycle, it would be really helpful to … make folks aware this could be a real challenge for voters in this upcoming election cycle — to be able to discern accurate, correct information from the things that look very real but may not be.”

In previous cycles, Toulouse Oliver’s office has invested in promotional campaigns and online resources to combat misinformation (defined as false information shared without intention of harm), disinformation (deliberately misleading information) and malinformation (often defined as disinformation based on a kernel of true information but presented deceptively or exaggerated so as to mislead). At the office’s website, sos.nm.gov, a page styled “Rumor vs. Reality” addresses some common rumors and misunderstandings about elections and voting.

This year, the office is focusing more attention on “AI-manipulated media that could distort the truth about the election and candidates,” Toulouse Oliver said in a news release earlier in May. “With the creation of deepfakes and other manipulated media through AI software, seeing is no longer believing.”

Besides spreading awareness of fakery and ways to spot it, the campaign also promotes avenues for obtaining information about elections, either through a residents’ local county clerk or the Secretary of State’s office.

“We're all trying to grapple with this new technology and and the new level of perceived reality that it brings to mis- and disinformation,” she told the Bulletin.

It could also be seen as an exercise in building trust in election processes. Ahead of the 2022 elections, a survey by the Pew Research Center indicated most voters were confident that their elections would be administered properly, and their confidence appeared to have grown since the 2020 election although it still lagged behind 2018.

The survey found, however, a marked difference when it came to party affiliation: 56 percent of Republican supporters expressed confidence that congressional elections would be administered at least “somewhat” well, compared to 88 percent of Democratic supporters.

And there is a trend in federal politics this year, among Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his prominent supporters, of not committing to accept the results of elections in November. At campaign appearances, the former president has continued to present false claims about the 2020 election, which he lost to Joe Biden.

“There are people out there that believe. in some ways not wrongly, that as much distrust as they can sow in the system, it’s beneficial for a perceived political outcome,” said Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat elected to her second term as Secretary of State in 2022.

“We’re trying to thread a needle here. We want voters to be aware and engaged, and to make sure they have the tools they need to try to determine what is fake and what is real. By the same token, what we don’t want to do is encourage voters to feel that they can’t believe anything … because then what happens is we end up, as election officials, undermining our message, which is that we’re the trusted sources of accurate election information.”

Working with the Esparza Digital+ Advertising firm, the office has developed a coordinated public information campaign across traditional media and advertising modes as well as social media. Also, a new state web page, sos.nm.gov/AI, presents primers on how to recognize AI-manipulated images and content, along with a quiz presenting genuine, professionally produced photographic images versus convincing computer-generated images.

The materials encourage citizens to look for signs such as unnaturally shaped features or facial expressions, inconsistent shadows and lighting and other irregularities that indicate an image or video was faked.

Additionally, Toulouse Oliver said, “We have a new law that was passed (in 2024) that does require disclosure of any sort of AI-generated content in the context of political ads. … We want the voters to know whether what they’re seeing is real or generated by a computer.”

Reported violations of that law would be investigated by the New Mexico State Ethics Commission. Toulouse Oliver’s office does not have investigators to enforce it. Alex Curtas, a spokesman for Toulouse Oliver, told Source New Mexico this spring, “We operate under the idea of trying to seek voluntary compliance from people.”

Spreading awareness among the general public is an additional strategy for repelling misleading information.

“We are in this brave new world, trying to see whether or not this law has teeth and how effectively we can enforce it,” Toulouse Oliver said. “For good or for bad, this year is going to be a pilot project.”

AI, Real person, fake person, elections chief, fake voice