New Mexico’s Supreme Court orders county commission to certify vote

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

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

That move had potentially disenfranchised “every Otero County voter who legally and securely cast a ballot” and harmed candidates “seeking to have their names on the General Election Ballot” in November, Oliver argued.

A spokesman for Oliver, Alex Curtas, said that office was also pursing a criminal referral with the state’s attorney general, which could result in the commissioners being charged with contempt of court or removed from office if they do not follow the court’s instructions.

“This is terra nova; it’s uncharted territory,” said Curtas. “Hopefully it doesn’t come to that.”

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

Trump pushed ‘big lie’ despite being told election fraud claims were false, aides testify

The deadline to certify the primary election results is Friday. Under state law, county boards must prove there were discrepancies in election returns if they decline to certify results; so far, the commissioners have only said they are generally distrustful of state officials and of the electronic voting machines.

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

Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin, who is scheduled to be traveling this Friday for trespassing at the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot, said the board continues to have concerns about election security even after three official audits of the 2020 results and a partisan review by “volunteers” turned up no evidence of widespread fraud.

Griffin falsely asserted that the machines’ software had not been updated since 2011 — a bipartisan commission recertified the machines just last year — and repeated the debunked rumor that the machines, which are not linked to the internet, could be hacked.

“We have questions that are unanswered, and now we’re being threatened by the secretary of state that we have to certify or else. It’s real unfair,” Griffin said. “I tell people my oath is to the people I represent. I did not take an oath to the state of New Mexico or their election laws. It’s my duty to my office to make sure people can sleep at night. This is a nonpartisan issue — whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, we should all make 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 — were manipulated. Those falsehoods rest in part on an election night error by the clerk in a small Michigan county that resulted in the heavily Republican area briefly reporting that Biden had beaten Trump. The error was quickly corrected to show that Trump had won. But Trump allies continued to target the company.

Dominion officials have denied all claims made against the company, filing multibillion-dollar defamation lawsuits against various figures who spread the claims. Yet MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell, a leading election denier, still speaks frequently about his desire to see voting machines melted down and turned into incarcerate prison election officials he falsely claims threw the election to Biden.

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

Griffin, 47, a former rodeo cowboy and the founder of “Cowboys for Trump,” has long been an outspoken supporter of the former president. He is known for his incendiary comments, saying in 2020, for instance, that “the only good Democrat is a dead Democrat.”

He was arrested and charged with illegally entering restricted grounds and creating a disturbance after he breached the Capitol barricades during the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, although he said he did not enter the building. He was later convicted of one count of trespassing by a federal judge and is set to be decided in Washington on Friday.

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

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

But in fact, the audit soon fell apart and EchoMail eventually agreed to return part of the money the company had been paid; a settlement agreement showed that the company “found No Election Fraud as a result of their services.” Democrats on the House Oversight Committee had noted in a letter that the canvass might negatively impact the minority communities in a county where 40 percent of residents are non-White Hispanics.

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

Marquardt said she was not ready to comment, and Matherly — whose own reelection result now hangs in the balance — did not return calls or emails requesting comment Wednesday. But at Monday’s hearing, Marquardt appeared to mock the idea that commissioners would be compelled to certify by the courts.

“So, what?” she said. “Do they’re going to send us to the pokey?”

Alice Crites and Rosalind Helderman contributed to this report.

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