New Mexico may open criminal investigation if Otero County doesn't certify election results
District 2 Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin said the actions of the Supreme Court and Secretary constituted government overreach.
The Otero County Board of County Commissioners has until Friday to certify the results of the local 2022 primary election after the three member board voted not to do so earlier this week and could face criminal charges if they continue to refuse.
On Thursday, the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office referred the matter to the New Mexico Attorney General's Office for a criminal investigation, citing the commissioners' dereliction of duties in office, a day after the New Mexico Supreme Court issued a court order to compel commissioners to approve the election results by June 17.
Last week, the Commission also voted to do away with ballot drop boxes, discontinue the use of Dominion voting machines and require hand-counted ballots for the November election, a move it said was based on mistrust of present state voting requirements.
"All these actions are unlawful pursuant to the explicit terms of the election code and must be followed," read the Secretary of State's referral to the Attorney General's Office. "Therefore, all these violations of laws implicate the criminal and civil penalties in the Election Code and the Governmental Conduct Act.
"Our office believes that the specific votes of the Otero County Commission identified aboveimplicates civil and criminal violations of law. As such, we respectfully request a promptinvestigation into whether such violations occurred."
Commissioners in the rural county of south-central New Mexico expressed concerns with the use of Dominion voting machines, which were widely criticized by Republicans following the 2020 Presidential election when incumbent former-President Donald Trump lost to Democrat Joe Biden.
Commissioners also said they believed multiple voter audits held in Otero County since 2020 suggested “discrepancies” such as “ghost voters” when multiple ballots were allegedly submitted under the same name.
Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes did not respond to a request for comment from the Alamogordo Daily News.
No proof of such problems was provided in two audits of the county's 2020 election: one by New Mexico Audit Force and another by EchoMail, which ended as the company’s contract approved by the Commission was under investigation by the New Mexico Auditor’s Office for alleged misuse of public funds.
Following the vote to not certify the 2022 election, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver filed a lawsuit and writ of mandamus against the commissioners, asking the Supreme Court to compel the local body to certify the election.
Certification of the primary allows those who won their party’s nominations for office to go onto the ballot in the November general election.
“At the meeting they identified no deficiency in the election results, but rather made unsubstantiated claims about the voting systems in use throughout the state,” read the Secretary of State’s court filing.
“We further state that there is a statewide attempt to influence other County Canvassing Boards who are meeting to certify this week and we assume other Counties will be noncompliant with this provision which jeopardizes the general election ballot for all candidates.”
In the Supreme Court order signed by Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon, the court concurred with the Secretary of State and said the Otero County Commission must meet to certify the election.
District 2 Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin said the actions of the Supreme Court and Secretary constituted government overreach, arguing he and his fellow commissioners were in office to uphold the will of their voters, not the State of New Mexico. Over 7,000 votes were cast in the primary by Otero County voters.
Griffin, himself faces sentencing on Friday for charges of trespassing related to his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol which was also fueled by dissent with the results of the 2020 election.
“We’ve taken an oath to the people of Otero County, not the State of New Mexico,” Griffin said. “It’s really sad that the findings of the recent audit in the county aren’t important. The findings point to direct discrepancies.”
He said the commission was not concerned about any specific result of the primary election in the deep-red county where mostly Republicans hold public office.
Otero County's Board of Commissioners has three members: Vickie Marquardt, Griffin and Gerald Matherly. All the County's commissioners are Republicans.
“We’re just as concerned about Democrat votes as we are Republican votes,” Griffin said. “This isn’t a partisan issue. There’s just a lot of questions. Government should be transparent. Unfortunately, in this filthy political world we live in, politicians will do anything to stay in power.”
Government watchdog nonprofit Common Cause New Mexico chided Otero County commissioners for actions the group said were undermining voter rights.
“Monday’s vote by the Otero Commission to not certify the results was a vote to willfully break state law, disregard the election code and deprive voters of their basic right to have their votes count,” said Mario Jimenez, campaigns director for Common Cause New Mexico.
“With no legal authority or indication of fraud outside of personal bias and conjecture, the recent decision to not certify our entire state’s primary election results only stands to suppress voters’ will.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.