LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE

LAS CRUCES - A 10-day impoundment of more than 8,500 absentee ballots cast by Doña Ana County voters is underway. 

Republican congressional candidate Yvette Herrell requested that the absentee ballots, cast by voters in the home county of her opponent, Democratic Xochitl Torres Small of Las Cruces, be impounded for inspection. 

Representatives of both campaigns were at the county Bureau of Elections warehouse Monday to begin inspection of the ballots.

Under New Mexico statute, candidates are entitled to request a court order impounding ballots in one or more election precincts where they are a candidate. District Judge Manuel Arrieta ruled on Nov. 29 that the documents would remain at the county warehouse under the custody of district court.

More: Ballots in NM congressional race to be impounded after election is certified

Securing voter data

Documents available for inspection during the impoundment include tally sheets, registration certificates, paper ballots, absentee ballots, statements of canvass, absentee ballot applications and registers. Registration documents include confidential voter information including dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

To secure voter information, access to the warehouse is restricted to authorized personnel, and no one is to be present in the warehouse unless accompanied by Doña Ana County Clerk staff, representatives of both campaigns, and a designee of the court. The court representative is charged with marking seal numbers any time a ballot box is opened and resealed, although the county clerk may record that information for the court. 

Any printouts of or terminal access to certificates are to have confidential voter information redacted. 

The court costs involved in the impoundment and inspection of the ballots are being paid by the Herrell campaign. 

According to Arrieta's order, the 10 days of impoundment may be extended, but not beyond Dec. 26. 

More: On Fox, Herrell alleges 'documented complaints' about election, then goes silent

Torres Small, a Las Cruces attorney making her first run for public office, won the Nov. 6 election for the U.S. House seat in New Mexico second congressional district. Her victory came nearly 24 hours after polls closed. On Election Night, Herrell was leading in the vote count and several news organizations, including the Sun-News, projected she would win. 

Torres Small's victory the next day followed counting of a higher-than-usual number of absentee ballots — which the Doña Ana County Clerk's Office did not count on Election Night — in her home county. The tally put her ahead by over 3,500 votes. The election was certified by the State Canvassing Board on Nov. 27.

Questions about online portal

Herrell, currently a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives from Alamogordo, has not responded to inquiries from the Sun-News since the election and has not appeared at court hearings regarding her petition.

Her attorney, Carter B. Harrison of Albuquerque, has told reporters he is not authorized to speak to media on her behalf. The Doña Ana Republican Party did not immediately respond to an inquiry for this story and in the past has refrained from commenting on specific allegations or concerns about the election.

In a five-page letter addressed to Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver on Nov. 26, Harrison asked a number of questions pertaining to online applications for absentee ballots. His letter also stated that the high number of absentee ballots cast in the county "has made it difficult for us to quickly ferret out statistical anomalies."

More: New Mexico certifies midterm election sweep by Democrats

Several of Harrison's questions were also posed by Gov. Susana Martinez, a member of the State Canvassing Board, during the Nov. 27 certification meeting. In particular, Martinez inquired about whether the lack of a handwritten signature might invalidate an online application, and whether the identities of applicants were verified. 

During the canvassing board meeting, Deputy Secretary of State John Blair reported that absentee ballots obtained through the online portal accounted for 2,823 votes in the second congressional district contest. The total is smaller than Torres Small's margin of victory.

Algernon D'Ammassa can be reached at 575-541-5451, adammassa@lcsun-news.com or @AlgernonActor on Twitter.

LINKEDINCOMMENTMORE
Read or Share this story: https://www.lcsun-news.com/story/news/politics/elections/2018/12/03/yvette-herrell-campaign-inspection-dona-ana-absentee-ballots/2196071002/