By Daniel Chaco – Santa Fe New Mexican June 15, 2022
The state Supreme Court ordered Otero County commissioners Wednesday to do their job: certify the county’s primary election results.
It’s a ruling that thrust the state into the national spotlight as conspiracy theories promoted by former President Donald Trump continue to cast doubt on election integrity in the country.
The order came a day after Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver filed a petition asking the high court to intervene in the election dispute after the three-member Otero County Commission, all Republicans, refused to certify the results.
Toulouse Oliver, who made appearances on CNN and MSNBC to discuss the case, told CNN’s Don Lemon she was unsure the commission would certify the results by the court’s Friday deadline.
“We’re in uncharted territory here; we’ve never had a situation like this happen,” she said. “I would like to think that these individuals who have sworn an oath to the Constitution and laws of the state, once ordered by the Supreme Court, will do the right thing and just follow the law, quite simply. But at this point, to be quite honest, we don’t really know where this goes from here.”
Efforts to reach the three commissioners for comment were unsuccessful late Wednesday. A woman who answered the county government’s main number said the commissioners, as well as the county manager, all were all out of town.
Asked whether the pushback from the commission would spell trouble for the November general election, Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, called it a “canary-in-the-coal-mine situation.”
Toulouse Oliver is running for reelection against Republican Audrey Trujillo, who has called the 2020 election a “coup.”
“Of course, we are all extremely well aware of the lies and myths and disinformation that have been spread since 2020,” Toulouse Oliver said. “I think now what we’re seeing is individuals, regardless of the fact that they are sworn to uphold an oath … are ignoring that. They’re flouting it. … And I am concerned that not only could this activity spread to other counties in my state but that other entities in other states could undertake the same activity.”
Toulouse Oliver said she hopes the message New Mexico is sending is the law has to be followed. Toulouse Oliver, whose office is preparing a criminal referral to the state Attorney General’s Office, said the commissioners could face prosecution or removal from office.
One of the commissioners already is in trouble with the law.
Couy Griffin, co-founder of Cowboys for Trump, was convicted of illegally entering restricted grounds during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and is scheduled to be sentenced later this month.
Griffin told a TV station last week he didn’t go to Capitol to cause trouble.
“I could face a year in federal prison for walking down to the Capitol with one mission and one mission only: to go pray with people,” Griffin told ABC-7 in El Paso.
At a recent commission meeting, Griffin said the state and Dominion Voting Systems, the maker of the state’s voting tabulators, won’t allow an “outside source” to inspect the machines.
“We don’t know if they can be connected to the internet because they won’t allow us to inspect the machines,” he said.
Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, said voting tabulators undergo “a robust, statutorily outlined, bipartisan certification process.”
In response to Griffin’s concerns about voting machines being connected to the internet, Curtas pointed to a section of the secretary of state’s “Rumor vs. Reality” webpage that seeks to dispel the myth.
“New Mexico utilizes air-gapped counting systems, which means that our vote tabulators are prevented by law and process from being joined to a computer network or the Internet,” the webpage states.
“This is another specious point that has made the rounds in conspiracist circles and is simply more misinformation from Mr. Griffin,” Curtas wrote in an email.
Another Otero County commissioner, Chairwoman Vickie Marquardt, also expressed distrust in the machines.
“I have huge concerns with these voting machines,” she said at a commission meeting. “I really do. I just don’t, in my heart, think that they can’t be manipulated.”
John Block, who won the Republican primary for House District 51 in Otero County, said he supports the commission’s push for a hand count of ballots.
“It’s good to have local control of our local elections,” he said, adding he shared concerns of the commissioners, who cited distrust of Dominion voting machines in refusing to certify the results.
Block said Toulouse Oliver’s appearance on MSNBC and CNN shows her appetite for publicity.
“The problem with this election is it’s all about headlines,” said Block, a staunch conservative who believes Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. “People like Maggie Toulouse Oliver just want a headline talking about how they’re fighting a so-called big lie, and there’s no such thing as this big lie. It’s the big truth.”
Even before Toulouse Oliver appeared on TV, New Mexico’s election tumult was a repeated topic of discussion on MSNBC, first on The Beat with Ari Melber and then All in with Chris Hayes.
Before introducing Toulouse Oliver, Maddow noted one of the commissioners scoffed at the prospect of complying with a court order.
The commissioner, Marquardt, laughed Monday at the suggestion a court might intervene, according to the Associated Press.
“And so then what?” she asked. “They’re going to send us to the pokey?”
“I think she thought that was a ridiculous prospect, but it sounds like that might not be a ridiculous prospect,” Maddow told Toulouse Oliver.
“I don’t think it’s ridiculous,” Toulouse Oliver responded. “We are making that referral to the attorney general.”
The attorney general, Hector Balderas, also is a Democrat.