Willie Madrid and Rick Little headed for recount in House District 53 contest

Veronica Martinez
Las Cruces Sun-News

CHAPARRAL - Democrat incumbent Willie Madrid and Republican challenger Ricky Little are in a close race for New Mexico House District 53, so close that it triggered an automatic recount.

This is the third time the candidates have challenged one another and the first two contests were tight, but not this tight.

In 2016, Little won the district that straddles southern Doña Ana and Otero counties by 135 votes. In 2018, Madrid won by 115 votes.

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In 2020, Madrid leads by 33 votes from a total of 6,687 ballots. Because the margin is fewer than 1 percent, there will be an automatic recount per state election laws.

The recount will take place after the New Mexico Secretary of State Office releases official results which will be three Tuesdays after election day, communication director Alex Curtas said.

Willie Madrid, left, and Rick Little

"I'm fine with (a recount). It's the process and he has the same rights as I did if I was going to lose by seven votes," Madrid said. 

Madrid is alluding to the count on the secretary of state's website Wednesday afternoon, which showed Little up by seven votes. By Thursday morning, Madrid had picked up 39 votes and was in the lead.

More:Election Day quiet in Doña Ana County, as record state vote total set

The ballots counted late could have included damaged ballots, emailed oversea and military ballots and ballots with write-in votes which had to be hand tallied.

In the most recent count, Madrid leads by 18 votes in Doña Ana County and 15 votes in Otero County.

The candidates talked to the Sun-News Thursday and each speculated why they didn't get a larger share of the votes.

Madrid said Otero County "wasn't prepared" for the election and alleged voter suppression.

"We had disabled people, people getting their driving license checked and all of these are messages on inequality," he said. "I think those are the strong examples of the difference in votes I didn't get compared to the past."

Little worries about voter fraud, specifically residents who may have voted in person and via absentee.

"Personally from some of the elections I've seen in the past, I worry about the recount but we're going to have people down there and make sure that every vote is counted as long as it is legal," he said.

More:Give 'em Herrell: New Mexico's 2nd congressional district back in Republican hands

The Doña Ana County Clerk's office has controls against people voting twice, said Deputy County Clerk Lindsey Bachman.

She explained to the Sun-News in October: If someone tries to vote in person after having returned an absentee ballot, the system will catch it. If someone tries to vote in person before returning an absentee ballot, they can be allowed to do so, but the system would prevent their absentee ballot from being accepted later.

Anyone who tries to vote twice, even if by mistake, is reported to the district attorney. 

Madrid is an instructional assistant with the Gadsden Independent School District and LIttle owns R Little Enterprises. Little represented the district in 2011-2012 and again from 2015 to 2018.

Veronica Martinez is a trending and immigration reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. She can be reached at vmartinez@lcsun-news.com or @vamartinez10 on Twitter.