Election stalemate ends in New Mexico County after false allegations of fraud throw primary certification into question

The Otero County Commission voted 2 to 1, with one of the central figures in the refusal to certify the results, Commissioner Couy Griffin, voting “no.”

‘Honestly, we have no choice,’ Commission Chairwoman Vickie Marquardt said ahead of the vote, citing the risk of fines and dismissal if the panel ignores a state Supreme Court order. to certify the primary results.

Griffin, who was sentenced earlier Friday in Washington, D.C., for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, called the meeting and said his “hunch and gut feeling” told him to oppose this decision. He also spoke out against what he called “excessive state government power”.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, had successfully sought an order from the state Supreme Court this week to force certification. The all-Republican commission had refused to certify the results on Monday – citing concerns about Dominion voting machines and questions about a handful of individual votes in this month’s primary.

Friday marked the deadline for New Mexico counties to certify results.

“I am relieved that the Otero County Commission finally did the right thing and fulfilled its duty under New Mexico law to certify the free and fair results of the 2022 primary election,” Oliver said in a statement. “Otero County voters and candidates who duly won their primaries can now rest assured that their voices have been heard and the general election can proceed as scheduled.”

The confrontation in New Mexico had set off alarm bells among suffrage advocates nationwide, who feared the commissioners’ initial actions marked a preview of the disruption to come – as the debunked election conspiracy theories put forward by former President Donald Trump and his allies are settling in parts of the country.

“It’s the canary in the coal mine for 2022 and 20224,” said Jonathan Diaz, senior legal counsel for voting rights at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, of Otero County’s certification delay. “I think this reflects the pernicious nature of the lies about the election that the former president and his allies were spreading in the aftermath of that election and continue to spread today.”

This week, Oliver also made a criminal referral to the state attorney general, asking the commission to investigate what she called “multiple unlawful actions” – including the initial refusal to certify the results of the primary. and the vote to withdraw the ballot boxes. .

Marquardt said Friday in a crowded courtroom that Oliver, the state Supreme Court, the state legislature and Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, “are forming this commission to approve the endorsement under threat of criminal charges and imprisonment”.

“I will be of no use to the people of Otero County in jail or if I am removed from office,” she added.

In a press release Thursday, Marquardt said she was not looking to question the 2020 election, but had specific concerns about the certification of the state’s voting system and about three votes allegedly ” expressed from an address where the people living there died”. At Friday’s meeting, she said her questions about those votes were handled by county election officials.

Griffin, who was convicted in March of a misdemeanor trespassing charge, avoided jail on Friday and was sentenced to 14 days in jail, a $3,000 fine and a year of supervised release with the requirement that he complete 60 hours of community service.

Griffin, who co-founded Cowboys for Trump, had struck a defiant tone outside the Washington courtroom earlier on Friday, saying Oliver’s criminal referral ‘speaks volumes about the vindictiveness of New Mexico politics today’ today”.

Just over 7,300 Otero County voters cast ballots in this month’s primary, according to the secretary of state’s office. Trump easily won the Republican stronghold in 2020.

But officials in New Mexico’s southern county, home to about 68,000 people, have already faced scrutiny for their election-related conduct.

Earlier this year, the commission authorized a third-party review of the county’s 2020 election results. It included an “audit force” going door-to-door interviewing voters – prompting the US House Oversight and Reform Committee to launch an investigation.
A settlement agreement between the county and a company it had hired to undertake the review concluded that “no voter fraud” had been found.

Diaz of the Campaign Legal Center said it was “a reassuring sign” that the New Mexico Supreme Court moved so quickly to force certification. He said he hoped it “would serve as a wake-up call to other county councils and those involved in the election solicitation and certification process that this is not acceptable and that you cannot invalidate the votes of the American people”.

This story was updated with additional reports on Friday.

CNN’s Holmes Lybrand contributed to this report.

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