Republican officials in a rural New Mexico county refused to certify their primary election results this week due to vague concerns about ballot boxes and voting machines, echoing former President Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election and setting up a showdown with state authorities.
New Mexico held its primaries last week for a gubernatorial election and some local races, but commissioners in Otero County—home to about 68,000 people—voted 3-0 against certifying the results Monday, four days after the county commission also voted to demand a hand recount, restrict ballot drop boxes and stop using voting machines made by Dominion Voting Systems.
In an interview with Forbes, Commissioner Couy Griffin didn’t offer any specific evidence of voter fraud during last week’s primary, but members of the county commission have cited miscellaneous “concerns” about Dominion voting machines: “In my heart, I don’t know if it is right,” Commissioner Vickie Marquardt said in Monday’s meeting.
There’s no proof of widespread voting machine-based fraud, but beyond that, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office now says the county is breaking state election law by refusing to certify results, demanding a recount that it has no power to order and threatening to clash with state voting machine and vote dropbox rules.
Oliver’s spokesperson Alex Curtas told Forbes the Otero County commission is “going rogue,” noting the county clerk says she doesn’t have legal authority to do a recount.
In a letter Thursday, Oliver asked the Attorney General’s office to open a “prompt investigation” into Otero County, arguing the commissioners’ votes may “implicate civil and criminal violations of law.”
Attorney General Hector Balderas said in a statement: “The Commission must comply with the rule of law or we will take legal action.”
“I’m not threatened by them and I’m not intimidated by them,” Griffin told Forbes, responding to the possibility of a probe by the Attorney General. “I’m not going to be a rubber stamp. I want my questions answered.”
What To Watch For
The New Mexico Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered commissioners to certify the election by Friday, which is the legal deadline for all counties statewide, a ruling that came after Oliver sued the Otero County commission. The commission has a meeting set for Friday, and it’s unclear whether they will abide by the court’s ruling. Griffin told Forbes he will not change his vote and claimed the other two commissioners are “on the same ground,” but Griffin won’t be present for Friday’s meeting because he’s in D.C. for the sentencing hearing in his January 6 case. The other two commissioners did not respond to requests for comment.
The scuffle in Otero County might be the first time in recent years that local officials have outright refused to certify an election, but Curtas says there’s a “straight line” between Trump’s false 2020 election claims and the current conflict. After he lost the 2020 election, Trump and his allies often claimed voting machines were rigged to steal votes, a totally unsubstantiated theory that has seemingly been entertained by Otero County officials, with Griffin saying he wants to “look at” the machines but isn’t positive they’re fraudulent. Otero County is also one of several locales—including Arizona—where GOP officials have parlayed their suspicions about voter fraud into questionable audits of the 2020 results. Earlier this year, the county commission requested an audit overseen partly by David and Erin Clements, who have traveled the country offering to review elections. The audit was only partly completed, but in a settlement with the county, a company hired to probe the results said it found “no election fraud,” the Alamogordo Daily News reported (Griffin claims the company didn’t find fraud because it didn’t finish its work). Griffin claimed to Forbes the county commission dug up discrepancies in a voter canvass tied to the Clements’ work, but in March, the U.S. House Oversight Committee said it’s investigating concerns the door-to-door canvass in Otero County could intimidate voters.
“We’re in uncharted territory here,” Curtas told Forbes. “This is the first real subversive act that is based on the election lies of 2020.”