Tuesday, June 21, 2022
BY DAN BOYD
JOURNAL CAPITOL BUREAU
SANTA FE — The drama over certifying New Mexico’s primary election results might be over for now, but there could be a political fallout as lawmakers review a state election code that requires counties to approve their vote results before the statewide canvass can be certified.
All 33 counties voted to certify this year’s primary election results in advance of a deadline last week, though some county commissions faced jeers and angry shouts of “cowards” and “traitors” after casting their votes.
In addition, a divided Otero County Commission voted to approve the election results only after they faced a state Supreme Court order and possible removal from office.
Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, a former state elections director who provides technical assistance and training to county clerks, said Monday the state faces a conundrum. That’s because, he said, some activists who opposed certifying the election results and pressured county commissioners to NM lawmakers weigh fallout of primary election certification drama cast “no” votes made up their minds that election irregularities exist — even when election officials say they did not.
“They don’t really want answers,” said Ivey-Soto, an Albuquerque Democrat.
He said he’s not sure what specific changes to the state election code lawmakers might consider, but said, “I do think we need to look at the process.”
The current system, he said, puts county commissioners in a difficult spot — facing a requirement under state law that election results be certified and pressure from angry constituents not to do so.
“It really puts them in an unfair position and that’s what we need to take a look at,” Ivey-Soto told the Journal.
The New Mexico election certification drama — particularly in Otero County — drew national attention and top state elections officials have said the opposition to approving election results could be a sneak preview of efforts to undermine public confidence in elections around the country that could be launched this fall and in 2024.
House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, in a television appearance, pointed out county clerks defended the integrity of the primary election results.
“There was no evidence of any impropriety, no mismatched numbers, the election was run perfectly as the Republican county clerk in Otero County explained to the commissioners in exacting detail,” Egolf said in his appearance with former political strategist Symone Sanders on MSNBC.
However, House Minority Leader James Townsend, R-Artesia, said a better culling of the state’s voter rolls and prompt processing of ballots on Election Day could help alleviate election-related conspiracies.
“I think we have a lot of work to do on election integrity,” Townsend said Monday.
“It’s unfortunate that so many people have such questions about the voting process,” he added. ” But many people think they have very good reason to be suspicious.”
Townsend also said Otero County commissioners were trying to be thorough at their jobs, even when they initially voted last week to order a full recount of votes cast in the county and an inspection of the Dominion machines that New Mexico and other states use to tabulate votes.
Those initial votes prompted Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver to ask Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office to investigate possible violations of the state’s elections code and New Mexico’s Governmental Conduct Act.
Meanwhile, Ivey-Soto said New Mexico already has a transparent election system that includes paper ballots and mandatory postelection audits of certain races. He said counties are free to do a partial or full recount of election results after they are certified.
The state canvassing board will meet to certify New Mexico’s primary election results June 28, and any changes to the state’s process for certifying election results would likely not happen until after the November general election.
For now, Ivey-Soto said he’s concerned that the push not to certify election results could take a toll on New Mexico county clerks — and the state itself.
“This is not what we want to be famous for,” Ivey-Soto said.