SANTA FE, N.M.—Republicans have moved to impound ballots in two counties where the party continues to hold out hope for winning tight races for seats in the Legislature.

The requests to district courts by Republicans will ensure that ballots and other election materials, including absentee ballot requests and election result tally sheets, are taken into custody for safekeeping by courts in Sandoval and Dona Ana counties.

At issue are House and Senate races the GOP would like to win to chip away at Democratic majorities in the Legislature.

State Senate candidate David Doyle was among several Republicans who on Thursday sought protection of ballots in Sandoval County, where people waited in line for hours to vote on Election Day in GOP-leaning Rio Rancho.

Doyle trailed Democratic incumbent John Sapien by about six-tenths of a percentage point in unofficial returns. Doyle did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment on whether he may ask for recount.

In Dona Ana County, Rep. Terry McMillan, a Las Cruces Republican, said he asked for the impounding of ballots in his southern New Mexico legislative district because of a pending recount. He and Democrat Joanne Ferrary tied in the general election.

State law provides for an automatic recount of races in which the margin between the top candidates is less than one-half of 1 percent.

McMillan said he didn't suspect any irregularities in the counting of ballots in his race.

Impounding the ballots, McMillan said, "was the advice I was given to ensure the integrity of the recount, nothing more."

However, GOP Chairman Monty Newman sharply criticized election operations in Sandoval County.

"Court oversight of the handling and processing of the ballots and related election materials is absolutely necessary given the appalling lack of competence and planning shown by the Sandoval County clerk," Newman said in a statement Thursday.

County Clerk Sally Padilla, who administers elections, is a Democrat. County spokesman Sidney Hill declined to comment on the GOP criticisms.

Attorney General Gary King, a Democrat, said earlier this week that his office will investigate the county's conduct of the election. He has voiced concerns about possible voter suppression if people decided not to cast ballots in Rio Rancho because of delays at polling places.

Sandoval County operated five voting locations in Rio Rancho, the state's third largest community with a population of 87,000. That's one more polling site than the county provided in the nearby community of Bernalillo, which has a population of 8,300.

Newman said the party has "significant concerns about the treatment of voters, the administration of the election, the handling of the ballots and the repeated discovery of uncounted ballots and votes by the Sandoval County clerk during this process."

"New Mexicans and Sandoval County voters deserve better, and it is our hope that this impoundment will provide both accountability and full accuracy," he said.

Under state law, a court must order the impounding of ballots if candidates request it and pay a deposit. Candidates making the request and their political party can inspect impounded ballots by making a request to the court.

Dona Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins said he expected a recount to happen Dec. 3 in the House race between McMillan and Ferrary. The state canvassing board meets Nov. 27 in Santa Fe to certify election results and order any required recounts.

Based on unofficial returns, Democrats gained at least two seats in the 70-member House. That climbs to three if Ferrary wins and likely will give Democrats a 39-31 majority. In the Senate, the GOP picked up at least three seats. If Sapiens wins re-election, Democrats will have a 25-17 majority in the Senate.


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