Otero County commissioners schedule second vote on election certification

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ALAMOGORDO N.M. — The week began with a vote Monday by the Otero County Commission not to certify the local results of last week’s primary election.

Now, the commissioners have scheduled an emergency meeting for Friday afternoon to take up certification of the election. The notice for the meeting was posted late Thursday morning on the county’s website.

However, that meeting does not guarantee all commissioners will fall into line. Couy Griffin, the commission’s most outspoken member – known as the founder of Cowboy’s for Trump – will be in Washington D.C., Friday, where he will be sentenced for trespassing on restricted Capitol grounds during last year’s Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin said he doesn’t know if he will be able to cast a vote by phone but said, if he does, his position hasn’t changed since Monday.

“Whenever I call in my vote, it is going to remain the same and that is going to be a ‘No’ on the certification,” he said.

News of the meeting came after the New Mexico Supreme Court granted a request for a Writ of Mandamus, compelling the commissioners to certify the county’s results of the June 7 primary election. 

It’s something they declined to do Monday because of concerns, they said they had, that the county’s state-mandated Dominion vote tally machines are susceptible to fraud and manipulation. It’s a much-debunked claim that has been embraced by former President Donald Trump and many of his supporters who allege that his 2020 presidential defeat was due to widespread voter fraud.

Griffin wants his fellow commissioners to stand firm against certification.

“The only way that we are ever going to make sure that our elections are not being corrupted is to hold our ground,” he said.

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has said the commission’s failure to certify the results could upend the state’s electoral certification process – a necessary step for recounts in close races and for getting candidates’ names on the November general election ballot.

“This is an unfortunate precedent to be setting. It is unfortunate for our state and unfortunate for our democracy,” she said in a Wednesday interview with KOB 4.

Toulouse Oliver has since referred the matter to the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office.

“We have identified a number of potential acts that the county commission has undertaken that could be in violation, in criminal violation, as well as civil violation of election code and the governmental conduct act,” she said.

The referral says commissioners opted to not certify the election results, not for any reasons related to how the primary was conducted, but because of their disagreements over having to use the vote tally machines.

“Although they were counseled on the proper way to certify the election, they still took the vote against certification based on these beliefs and not a discrepancy in the election returns themselves,” the referral alleges.

The referral also asks the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office to look into potential illegalities from the commission’s June 9 vote. At a special meeting, all three commissioners voted to cease the use of vote count machines, to count the ballots by hand – and that the county no longer use its two ballot drop boxes.

Toulouse Oliver says commissioners do not have the authority to make such decisions and she says that the county attorney warned them they could not.

“We believe they were told that such action violated the express language of the election code but they still voted to approve those measures,” the referral states.

It cites state law, which makes willful violation of the state election code by an official a fourth-degree felony and that, if found guilty, that can possibly lead to a person’s removal from office.

Commissioner responds

Late Thursday, Otero County Commissioner Vickie Marquardt blasted the Secretary of State for her response to the commission’s vote.

“Toulouse-Oliver never reached out to the commission to find out what our concerns were, to offer assistance or to address any of the issues we might have with the election results. Instead, she chose to use the opportunity to further her political career by spending her time on television programs making baseless claims and threatening to jail political rivals,” Marquardt said in a press release late Thursday.

She added that she is “incredibly dismayed” by the New Mexico Supreme Court’s decision to consider the writ without seeking a response from the commissioners and why they did not certify the election results.

Marquardt, who during the June 13 meeting said she does not trust the machines, said her opposition to certification had nothing to do with the 2020 presidential election, but with if irregularities occurred in last week’s primaries.

She cites a race for a then-District 2 seat on the commission where two candidates in the Republican primary are separated by only 11 votes and that three of those votes came from places where there once were homes but are now vacant lots.

“I wanted to consider whether these votes may have affected the outcome of any contested election. In a county where elections are often decided by only a handful of votes, it is especially true that each vote matters,” she said.