Otero County Commissioners (from left) Gerald Matherly, Vickie Marquardt and Stephanie DuBois (Screenshot via the commission livestream)
Two New Mexico counties that delayed or resisted verifying June’s primary election results certified the general election without incident this week. In a third county, a commissioner that voted against certifying the June primary again voted no, but was again outvoted four to one by the other commissioners.
How it’s supposed to work
Before the votes, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and State Elections Director Mandy Vigil sent a notice to county commissions that they are required by state law to certify the elections.
If commissioners determine there were errors in the election returns, they should issue a summons to a precinct board and notify the secretary of state, but “still must proceed with the canvass of all correct election returns, as its duty is to find errors, not correct them,” the letter said.
Alex Curtas, a spokesperson for the Secretary of State’s Office, said state law does not provide commissioners the option to refuse. “They don’t have any discretion in the last instance to not certify the results,” he said. “We do expect these counties to follow the law.”
The all-Republican Otero County Commission initially voted against certifying the results of the June primary election, before being ordered to do so by the New Mexico Supreme Court. Following the court order, the county reversed its decision and voted two to one to certify the results. The lone remaining “no” was from former-Commissioner Couy Griffin, who called in to the meeting to vote just after his sentencing for federal charges relating to his participation in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Griffin was later banned from serving in public office by a state judge, who found he had participated in an insurrection at the Capitol and was therefore ineligible for office under the terms of the 14th Amendment.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed Democrat Stephanie DuBois to replace Griffin. DuBois lost the Nov. 8 election to Republican Amy Barela, who will replace her at the start of the new year. Last week, Griffin disrupted the Otero County Commission meeting during public comment, repeatedly calling DuBois a “loser” before being removed by the sheriff. He was later allowed to return and finish his comment.
Griffin was not present at Tuesday’s meeting to certify the election in Otero County. Earlier the same day, the New Mexico Supreme Court tossed out his appeal asking for the decision barring him from office to be overturned.
All three commissioners voted yes, after Commissioners Vickie Marquardt and Gerald Matherly noted that the law required them to do so and DuBois said she was confident in the results. Marquardt expressed continued skepticism at the use of voting machines, though she said she didn’t have a specific reason to doubt the accuracy of Otero County’s elections.
During the meeting, Marquardt also expressed regret over a June vote to remove ballot boxes, stop the use of voting machines and hand-count all ballots. The Secretary of State’s Office asked the Attorney General’s Office to investigate that decision on the grounds that it overstepped the commission’s authority, and Marquardt said she now agrees.
“We voted on these three things, and I feel bad for doing that, because we really had no authority,” she said. “I feel bad that we gave you guys that false hope… we shouldn’t have done that.”
Pushback from election deniers
The vote on the three election measures, as well as the commission’s initial vote against certifying the primary, were taken at the urging of far-right conspiracy theorists David and Erin Clements. The pair endorsed a number of election-denying candidates in New Mexico and other states, including Republican candidate for secretary of state Audrey Trujillo in New Mexico and GOP nominee for the governor’s race in Arizona Kari Lake, both of whom lost their races.
Voters around the country overwhelmingly rejected candidates that cast doubt on the 2020 election.
In an email, Erin Clements falsely insisted that many candidates endorsed by the pair did in fact win their elections but were declared the losers because of fraud. She said the Otero County Commission “failed in their duty to stand up for the citizens of Otero County” when it voted to certify the election results.
In an interview, Griffin said he would have again voted against certifying the election results if he had been allowed to remain in office.
“I don’t have respect for commissioner Marquardt’s comment and vote that followed, because in her comment, she said that she as well doesn’t believe in the accuracy of the machines,” he said. “She questions the machines, yet she still votes to certify the election, and she does so under the intimidation of being removed from office.”
Still no evidence
Conspiracy theories fueled by former president Donald Trump have cast doubt on the reliability of voting machines, though no credible evidence of widespread problems with the machines has emerged in the two years following the 2020 election. Local and national experts say that New Mexico’s elections are among the most secure in the country.
Unofficial audit in Torrance County
In Torrance County, the conservative panel of commissioners voted in June to delay the vote on certification of the primary results, but reconvened and unanimously voted to certify after the state’s Supreme Court intervened in Otero County. On Thursday, the commission unanimously voted to certify the general election results, before hearing an update on an unofficial election audit the county began after the June primary.
A similar audit undertaken in Otero County failed to produce evidence of fraud, and was the subject of state and federal investigations into its use of funds and its potential intimidation of voters. In Thursday’s update, Torrance County Manager Janice Barela, who is overseeing the unofficial audit, told the commission that she does not have evidence of fraud and is seeking additional information from the county clerk. In October, Barela told the Associated Press that she is “not going to be perfect in it (auditing the election), but I can tell you that I’m trying.”
Barela was also a key figure in the push to remove former Torrance County Clerk Yvonne Otero. The county asked the state to remove Otero from her post following an investigation into whether Otero was properly certifying voting machines. Commissioners say the investigation also found that Otero had used drugs and harassed employees.
Conspiracy theorists in Bernalillo County
At a Tuesday meeting of the Bernalillo County Commission, around a dozen public commenters demanded the commission vote against certification, citing debunked election conspiracy theories pushed by the Clements and former President Trump. The Bernalillo County Commission is meeting Monday to vote on the matter, and commissioners Debbie O’Malley, Adriann Barboa and Charlene Pyskoty told Source New Mexico they will certify and don’t anticipate any no votes or delays.
Bernalillo County Deputy Clerk Jaime Diaz said if voters have concerns about election integrity, they should talk to their County Clerk’s office directly.
“If they have any questions, they really should just talk to the Clerk’s Office and ask them, let us understand more how you do things,” he said. “I know we’re very transparent in Bernalillo County, and if they still kind of wonder, take a day and volunteer so they can be poll officials and be part of that process and see how that runs.”
Republican Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block voted Friday against certification of the election results, repeating his no vote after the June primary.
Block, a Clements ally who has expressed skepticism about the election process, was not present at Friday’s meeting and called in on speakerphone. He said he voted no because he was unable to see an information packet that commissioners who were present in the chambers were given during the meeting. The vote passed, with all four other commissioners voting to approve certification.
Reached by email for comment before the meeting, Block demanded to know why Source New Mexico did not cover a laundry list of items, including Stacey Abrams and “election deniers from 2016.” Abrams is a former gubernatorial candidate in Georgia who has never run for office in New Mexico. Source New Mexico was founded five years after the 2016 election. Block then went on the offensive: “Not sure if mom raised you that way, but it’s disappointing. Mom should have instilled in you values to stand for something, answer a question and be truthful.”
Block continued to email while Friday’s commission meeting was underway. Several minutes before casting his “no” vote on certification, he wrote “Your integrity is in question and trust. I hope you can build that trust up with me.”
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