Election standoff ends in New Mexico county after false fraud claims threw primary certification into question
By Fredreka Schouten, CNN
Updated 8:01 PM ET, Fri June 17, 2022
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver gives an update on election security preparations in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
(CNN)The majority of a county commission in a rural swath of New Mexico on Friday voted to certify the results of the June 7 primary, ending a standoff with state officials that had set off national alarms about potential election subversion.
The Otero County Commission voted 2-1, with one of the central figures in the refusal to certify the results, Commissioner Couy Griffin, voting “no.”
“We honestly don’t have a choice,” Commission Chairwoman Vickie Marquardt said before the vote, citing the potential for fines and removal from office if the panel ignored an order from the state Supreme Court to certify the primary results.
Griffin, who was sentenced earlier Friday in Washington, DC, for his role in the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, called in to the meeting and said his “gut feeling and intuition” told him to oppose the move. He also railed against what he called the “overreach of the state government.”
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, had successfully sought a state Supreme Court order this week to force the certification. The all-Republican commission had refused on Monday to certify the results — 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.
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“I am relieved that the Otero County Commission finally did the right thing and followed their duty under New Mexico law to certify the free and fair results of the 2022 Primary Election,” Oliver said in a statement. “The voters of Otero County and the candidates who duly won their primaries can now rest assured that their voices have been heard and the General Election can proceed as planned.”
The confrontation in New Mexico had set off alarms among voting rights advocates nationwide, who feared the commissioners’ initial actions marked a preview of disruptions to come — as debunked election conspiracy theories advanced by former President Donald Trump and his allies take hold in parts of the country.
“This is the canary in the coal mine for 2022 and 20224,” Jonathan Diaz, senior legal counsel for voting rights with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, said of the Otero County certification delay. “I think it’s reflective of 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’s attorney general, urging an investigation of the commission over what she called “multiple unlawful actions” — including the initial refusal to certify the results of the primary and voting to remove ballot drop boxes.
Marquardt told a crowded hearing room Friday that Oliver, the state Supreme Court, the state legislature and Attorney General Hector Balderas, a Democrat, “are railroading this commission into rubber-stamping approval under the threat of criminal charges and jail.”
“I will be of no use to the residents of Otero County from jail or if I’m removed from office,” she added.
In a Thursday news release, Marquardt said she was not seeking to relitigate the 2020 election but had specific concerns about certification of the state’s voting system and about three votes allegedly “cast from an address where the individuals living there are deceased.” At Friday’s meeting, she said her questions about those votes had been addressed by the county election officials.
Griffin, who had been convicted in March on a misdemeanor trespassing charge, avoided jail time Friday and was sentenced to 14 days with time served, fined $3,000 and given one 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 Friday, saying Oliver’s criminal referral “speaks volumes about the vindictiveness of New Mexico politics today.”
A little more than 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 the southern New Mexico county of roughly 68,000 people have faced scrutiny before over their election-related conduct.
The commission earlier this year authorized a third-party review of the county’s 2020 election results. It included an “audit force” going door-to-door to question voters — prompting the US House Oversight and Reform Committee to launch an investigation.
A settlement agreement between the county and a company it had contracted to undertake the review concluded that “No Election Fraud” had been found.
The Campaign Legal Center’s Diaz said it was “a reassuring sign” that the New Mexico Supreme Court had moved so swiftly to force the certification. He said he hoped it would “serve as a warning shot to other county boards and folks involved in the canvassing and certification process in elections that this is not acceptable, and you cannot invalidate the votes of the American people.”
This story has been updated with additional reporting Friday.
CNN’s Holmes Lybrand contributed to this report.
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