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Thursday August 11th, 2022 5:17AM

GOP commission refuses to certify New Mexico primary vote

By The Associated Press
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SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s secretary of state on Tuesday asked the state Supreme Court to order the Republican-led commission of rural Otero County to certify primary election results after it refused to do so over distrust of Dominion vote-tallying machines.

Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Olive's request came a day after the three-member Otero County commission, in its role as a county canvassing board, voted unanimously against certifying the results of the June 7 primary without raising specific concerns about discrepancies.

The commission's members include Cowboys for Trump co-founder Couy Griffin, who ascribes to unsubstantiated claims that former President Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Griffin was convicted of illegally entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds — though not the building — amid the riots on Jan. 6, 2021, and is scheduled for sentencing later this month. He acknowledged that the standoff over this primary could delay the outcome of local election races.

“I have huge concerns with these voting machines,” Otero County Commissioner Vickie Marquardt said Monday. “When I certify stuff that I don’t know is right, I feel like I’m being dishonest because in my heart I don’t know if it is right.”

The commission’s vote is the latest example of how conspiracy theories and misinformation are affecting the integrity of local elections across the U.S. Trump has continued to describe the 2020 election as “rigged” or “stolen,” despite a coalition of top government and industry officials calling it the "most secure in American history.”

Dominion’s systems also have been unjustifiably attacked since the 2020 election by people who embraced the false belief that the election was stolen from Trump. The company has filed defamation lawsuits in response to incorrect and outrageous claims made by high-profile Trump allies.

New Mexico’s Dominion machines have been disparaged repeatedly by David and Erin Clements of Las Cruces in their review of the 2020 election in Otero County and voter registration rolls at the request of the commission. The Clements are traveling advocates for “forensic” reviews of the 2020 election and offer their services as election experts and auditors to local governments. Election officials including County Clerk Robyn Holmes say the Clements are not certified auditors nor experts in election protocols.

The couple has highlighted problems during sporadic, hourslong presentations to the commission this year. Local election officials dispute many of the findings as mistaken or unfounded.

County canvassing boards have until June 17 to certify election results, prior to state certification and preparation of general election ballots.

Under state law, county canvass boards can call on a voting precinct board to address specific discrepancies, but no discrepancies were identified on Monday by the Otero commission.

“The post-election canvassing process is a key component of how we maintain our high levels of election integrity in New Mexico and the Otero County Commission is flaunting that process by appeasing unfounded conspiracy theories and potentially nullifying the votes of every Otero County voter who participated in the primary,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement. She accused the commission of willful violations of the state election code.

New Mexico uses paper ballots that can be double-checked later in all elections, and also relies on tabulation machines to rapidly tally votes while minimizing human error. Election results also are audited by random samplings to verify levels of accuracy in the vote count.

The Otero County commission voted last week to recount ballots from the statewide primary election by hand, remove state-mandated ballot drop boxes that facilitate absentee voting and discontinue the use of Dominion vote tabulation machines in the general election.

On Monday, Holmes said those instructions from the county commissions conflict with state and federal election law, and that she would only recount the election by hand under a court order.

“The election law does not allow me to hand tally these ballots or to even form a board to do it. I just can’t,” said Holmes, a Republican. “And I’m going to follow the law.”

Holmes noted that the state-owned vote tabulation machines from Dominion are tested by Otero County officials in public view and that the machines also are independently certified in advance. Griffin said he and fellow commissioners don't see the process as trustworthy.

“That’s a source that we don’t have any control or influence over,” he said.

Mario Jimenez of the progressive watchdog group Common Cause New Mexico said the public can view testing of vote-tallying machines prior to elections in every county, and that certification notices are posted on every machine where voters can see them.

“They have no basis — other than ‘we just don’t trust the machine’ — for not certifying the election," Jimenez said of the Otero County commissioners.

Though Trump won nearly 62% of the vote in Otero County in 2020, county commissioners have said they are not satisfied with results of the state’s audit of the vote count nor assurances by their Republican county clerk that elections this year will be accurate.

County commissioners could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday.

Marquardt, the commissioner, laughed Monday at the suggestion that a court might intervene in the election dispute.

“And so then what? They're going to send us to the pokey?” she said.

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