New Mexico begins certification process for midterm election

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Midterm election results were certified Tuesday by at least three county commissions in New Mexico at the start of a once-routine process that in some locations has become a focal point for those voicing distrust in voting systems.

Among the decisions, Otero County’s three county commissioners voted unanimously to certify Nov. 8 election results at a meeting in Alamogordo after a briefing by the county’s top elections official.

The Otero County commission in June initially refused to certify primary election results while citing distrust of voting systems used to tally the vote — even though County Clerk Robyn Holmes said there were no problems. The commission reversed course on a 2-1 vote to certify the primary after Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver successfully petitioned the state Supreme Court to issue an order directing the local board to certify.

On Tuesday, Otero County Commission Chairwoman Vickie Marquardt commended the work of local election officials in the midterm election.

She said she still believes there are election problems in the U.S. but noted that county commissioners have limited oversight authority under New Mexico state law.

“We’re basically like notaries,” Marquardt said. “The county commission cannot remove the voting machines, we cannot demand a hand recount. … And I know that you guys wish that it was in our authority. But it’s not.”

Commissioners in Socorro and Curry counties also voted unanimously to certify local election results.

Most of the state’s 33 counties have until Friday to review any election discrepancies presented by county clerks and vote on certification. Those decisions are typically followed by a review of the state canvassing board, automatic recounts in close races and a post-election audit.

Attempts to delay primary results in a handful of New Mexico counties earlier this year have brought new scrutiny to a process that typically takes place quietly in the weeks after Election Day.

Partisan officials are involved in certifying elections in most states, something experts worry about after nearly two years of conspiracy theories falsely claiming the 2020 presidential election was stolen from former President Donald Trump. There is no evidence of widespread fraud or manipulated voting machines, and reviews in battleground states confirmed Democrat Joe Biden’s win.

In Otero County in June, the dissenting vote against certification came from Couy Griffin, who was removed from office in September and barred from public office by a state judge for engaging in insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear an appeal by Griffin of his removal and banishment from public office. Griffin and his attorney in the case could not immediately be reached for comment.

Griffin, a founder of the Cowboys for Trump, a group that has staged horseback parades to spread Trump’s conservative message, said his vote against certification of the primary was based on his “gut feeling,” but he didn’t cite any specific discrepancies in the vote tally.

In the midterm election, voters in staunchly conservative Otero County favored Republican candidates by wide margins in statewide races for governor, attorney general and secretary of state. Democrats won every statewide elected office on the ballot and flipped a congressional seat in southern New Mexico.

Preliminary elections results show more than 60% of Otero County voters cast ballots for Republican candidate for Secretary of State Audrey Trujillo, who aligned her campaign with a coalition that seeks large-scale changes to elections administration.