‘Canary in the coalmine’: New Mexico clash hints at looming election crisis | new Mexico

Hello, and Happy Thursday,

There’s an incredibly important standoff playing out in New Mexico right now that is setting off loud alarm bells about the potential for overturning a future American election.

The clash is taking place in Otero county, which sits along the New Mexico-Texas border and is home to about 70,000 people. Donald Trump overwhelmingly carried the county with nearly 62% of the vote in 2020. On Monday, the three-member county commission refused to certify the results of the state’s 7 June primary.

In their meeting, the commissioners, all Republicans, did not cite specific reasons for taking the extraordinary step of not certifying the contest. Two of the commissioners referenced generalized concerns about voting machines from Dominion, a company that has been the target of numerous conspiracy theories about the election. The third commissioner pointed to ineligible voters casting ballots, but didn’t cite a specific number of votes he was concerned about (You can watch the entire meeting here.)

For months, baseless claims about fraud have been percolating in Otero county, which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2020. The county commissioned a review of the 2020 election by inexperienced people who wound up making inaccurate claims about the county’s voting machines. The county commission has since voted to get rid of all Dominion voting machines and count all ballots by hand, which experts warn is less reliable than a machine count. New Mexico law already requires a post-election audit, which the state completed in 2020.

“I don’t trust Dominion, period,” Vickie Marquardt, one of the county commissioners said during Monday’s meeting.

“I don’t have specific examples that I can point to other than the recent audit and the canvases and the uncertainty of what that produced,” said Couy Griffin, another commissioner. Griffin is the founder of Cowboys for Trump, who was convicted of a misdemeanor for entering the US Capitol complex on January 6 (his sentencing is set for Friday).

Marquardt, Griffin and Gerald Matherly, the third county commissioner, did not respond to interview requests.

It’s a “canary in the coalmine” for what could be coming in November and in 2024, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s secretary of state, told me. She said she’d never seen anything like this before.

“What we’re seeing in Otero county is a complete breakdown of the rule of law and the democratic process,” Oliver, a Democrat, said. “This isn’t just about one little county in a state of 2 million population. It’s about what happens as a result of this. What model are they setting for other similar entities around the state and around the country.”

Local officials across the country, citing shaky claims of fraud or lack of confidence in the results, could simply refuse to take the step of certifying elections. People who deny the results of the 2020 election are making a concerted effort to take over these little-known positions, from poll workers to local canvassing boards to secretaries of state.

Oliver’s office filed a lawsuit on Tuesday seeking to force the county commissioners to certify the election. While state law allows for commissioners to seek clarifications about ambiguities or errors, it is clear that they don’t have discretion to refuse to certify an election. On Wednesday, the New Mexico supreme court ordered the county to certify the results no later than 17 June.

Mario Jimenez, a former election official in the state who now works as the campaign director for the New Mexico chapter of Common Cause, a watchdog group, noted New Mexico law makes it a criminal offense to knowingly violate election laws.

“They were instructed by their county attorney on the things they can and cannot do … despite being notified by their own legal expert and this very experienced county clerk, they continue to willfully break the law and not serve their community or their constituents.”

Oliver’s involvement underscores the kind of power that secretaries of state have to enforce election laws, including in the ballot counting process. Republicans running for secretary of state in many states have openly questioned the 2020 election results, and if they win this fall they could play a key role in blocking results from being certified. Audrey Trujillo, a Republican running against Oliver in New Mexico this year, has called the 2020 election a “coup” and urged commissioners across the state not to certify county results absent a hand recount and “forensic audit”.

During Monday’s meeting, the commission’s attorney advised commissioners that they could be forced by court order to certify the election if they refused. The commissioners were unfazed. “And so then what? They’re going to send us to the pokey? Marquardt said.

Also worth watching…

  • Jim Marchant, a QAnon-linked candidate who has spread baseless claims about the election, won the GOP nomination to be Nevada’s top election official.

  • More than 100 candidates who have embraced lies about the election have won Republican primaries so far, according to a tally by the Washington Post.

  • The US supreme court set 4 October as the date it will hear a hugely consequential redistricting case out of Alabama.

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