• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

New Mexico Supreme Court orders county commission to certify vote

ByChad J. Johnson

Jun 15, 2022

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered county commissioners in rural Otero County to do their job and certify the election results, two days after they refused, citing unsubstantiated concerns about fraud.

The court granted the emergency motion of New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, who earlier this week asked the court to intervene and compel the three-member council to approve the total votes from a June 7 primary. The commission had voted Monday not to do so.

The move potentially disenfranchised “all voters in Otero County who voted legally and safely” and hurt candidates “seeking to get their names on the general election ballot” in November, a Oliver argues.

A spokesperson for Oliver, Alex Curtas, said the office is also pursuing a criminal referral to the state attorney general, which could result in the commissioners being charged with contempt of court or being removed from office if they did not follow the court’s instructions.

“It’s terra nova; this is uncharted territory,” Curtas said. “I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

The commissioners’ refusal thrust the small county of 66,000 people on the Texas border into the national spotlight at a time of growing concern over the long-term damage wrought by former President Donald Trump’s repeated claim that the 2020 election was stolen from him – the so-called “big lie”.

Trump uttered ‘big lie’ despite being told voter fraud allegations were false, aides testify

The deadline for certifying the results of the primary elections is Friday. Under state law, county councils must prove there were discrepancies in election results if they refuse to certify the results; so far, commissioners have been content to say they are generally wary of state officials and electronic voting machines.

At stake are the results of the primary for the county seat and several other positions, including a district court judge, a county assessor and a county sheriff.

Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, who is to be sentenced this Friday for trespassing on Capitol Hill during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, said the council continues to have election security concerns even after three official audits of 2020 results and one partisan review by “volunteers” found no evidence of widespread fraud.

Griffin falsely claimed that the machines’ software had not been updated since 2011 – a bipartisan commission recertified the machines last year – and repeated the debunked rumor that the machines, which are not internet-connected , could be hacked.

“We have questions that remain unanswered, and now we are threatened by the Secretary of State that we must certify otherwise. It’s really unfair,” Griffin said. “I tell people my oath is to the people I represent. I have not been sworn to the state of New Mexico or its election laws. It’s my duty to my office to make sure people can sleep at night. It’s a non-partisan issue – whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, we should all be making sure our elections are secure.

Trump supporters have long circulated false claims that voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems — such as those used in New Mexico — have been manipulated. Those lies are based in part on an election night mistake by the clerk of a small Michigan county that led the heavily Republican region to briefly report that Biden had beaten Trump. The error was quickly corrected to show that Trump had won. But Trump’s allies continued to target the company.

Dominion officials have denied all allegations made against the company, filing multi-billion dollar libel suits against various figures who spread the allegations. Yet MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, a leading election denier, still speaks frequently about his desire to see voting machines melt down and turn into prison bars, to incarcerate election officials he claims mistakenly throwing the election at Biden.

Otero’s vote “is another example of how lies about Dominion have damaged our business and diminished public confidence in elections,” Dominion Voting Systems spokeswoman Stephanie Walstrom said in a statement.

Griffin, 47, a former rodeo cowboy and founder of “Cowboys for Trump,” has long been a strong supporter of the former president. He is known for his inflammatory comments, saying in 2020, for example, that “the only good democrat is a dead democrat”.

He was arrested and charged with unlawfully entering restricted grounds and creating a disturbance after breaching Capitol barricades during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, although he said he did not entered the building. He was later found guilty of one count of trespassing by a federal judge and is expected to be sentenced in Washington on Friday.

He and the two other Otero commissioners — Vickie Marquardt and Gerald Matherly — voted earlier this year to pay about $50,000 to a company called EchoMail to verify the county’s 2020 presidential election results. EchoMail had previously been involved in another controversial third-party audit of 2020 returns in Maricopa County, Arizona. As part of the effort, volunteers calling themselves the “New Mexico Audit Force” went door-to-door with voters.

“When we audited the county, we polled the vote to verify voters and make sure we only had legal voters,” Griffin said in the interview. “We found a lot of discrepancies – ghost voters and voting from addresses that weren’t their residences.”

But in fact, the audit quickly failed and EchoMail eventually agreed to return some of the money the company had been paid; a settlement agreement showed that the company “found no voter fraud through their services.” Democrats on the House Oversight Committee had noted in a letter that the solicitation could negatively impact minority communities in a county where 40% of residents are nonwhite Hispanics.

Curtas said the secretary of state’s office was motivated to file the emergency appeal in part because it feared other counties would follow suit and refuse to certify votes. Torrance County voted Monday to file for certification. Officials did not return a request for comment.

Marquardt said she was not ready to comment, and Matherly – whose re-election outcome now hangs in the balance – did not return calls or emails seeking comment on Wednesday. But at Monday’s hearing, Marquardt appeared to scoff at the idea that commissioners would be forced to certify by the courts.

“So what?” she says. “They’re going to send us to the pokey?”

Alice Crites and Rosalind Helderman contributed to this report.