With absentee ballots in Doña Ana County finally counted, Democrat Xochitl Torres Small will be the next U.S. Representative for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.
Torres Small needed a little over 1,800 more votes than Republican Yvette Herrell to win the race before the county’s absentee ballots were included in the vote totals.
Torres Small blew past that number and netted an additional 4,564 votes, which gave her a 50.69 percent to 49.31 percent lead over her Republican opponent.
In all, there were 8,258 absentee ballots for the race.
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Wednesday evening, the Associated Press called the race for Torres Small.
“We said every vote would count and today the hard work, persistence and dedication of our people-powered campaign achieved what so many said was impossible,” Torres Small said in a statement Wednesday night. “Thank you to the people of southern New Mexico for putting your trust in me. I am humbled by the support I’ve seen since day one of this campaign.”
Herrell said Wednesday night she would not concede.
Yvette Herrell is not conceding in #NM02 & is waiting for count of provisional ballots. In statement, campaign says: "Last night, we heard from Xochitl Torres Small that it was extremely important that every vote be counted. This campaign believes that should be the case" #nmpol
— Andrew Oxford (@andrewboxford) November 8, 2018
There are still approximately 1,000 provisional ballots left in the county, per journalist Heath Haussamen. Provisional ballots are used to make sure voters do not lose their right to vote because of administrative error, such as their address being listed wrong, the National Conference of State Legislatures says. However, sometimes provisional ballots are cast by those who are not eligible (for example: the voter lives in a different district or is not registered). Provisional ballots are reviewed and if they are found to be invalid, they are not counted. This means there are potentially hundreds more ballots, and election officials will address these tomorrow.
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Other counties in the district also likely have provisional ballots that need to be tallied and reported.
But it does not appear there are enough uncounted ballots for Herrell to catch up.
It’s just the latest twist in the expensive, high-profile race for the largely rural, conservative southern New Mexico seat left open when incumbent Republican Steve Pearce opted to run for Governor instead of another term.
Both Torres Small and Herrell won primaries fairly easily before the race received national attention as Democrats sought to take control of the House.
Democrats did take control of the House, and Torres Small added to the majority. Torres Small is just the second Democrat to hold the district since the state gained three congressional districts in 1983. Harry Teague won in 2008, amid the Barack Obama wave, but lost to Pearce in 2010.
The climactic ending came almost a full day after it appeared Herrell won the race.
When Tuesday night ended and vote counts slowed, Herrell held a narrow lead over Torres Small—just 1,986 votes out of hundreds-of-thousands cast. Multiple media outlets had called the race for Herrell earlier Tuesday evening.
But after midnight, the Secretary of State’s office announced the numbers did not include absentee ballots from Doña Ana County, the most important county in the district for Democrats.
In all, the Secretary of State’s office announced there were “approximately” 8,000 absentee ballots that were not part of the results. About half had been counted on Election Day, but the other half still needed to be counted.
Doña Ana County wasn’t the only county with outstanding ballots for the U.S. House race. Cibola County also had about 700 uncounted ballots.
When those numbers came in, Torres Small gained 100 votes.
More counties gave Torres Small another 33 votes on Wednesday afternoon.
Automatic recounts only kick in for federal races when the results between two candidates are within 0.25 percent.
Update: Added information about the previous time a Democrat held the seat.
Update 2: Added that the Associated Press called the race and changed headline.
Update 3: Added quote by Xochitl Torres Small.
Update 4: Added tweet saying Yvette Herrell would not concede.
Correction: This story originally said Yvette Herrell had 59.31 percent. It is 49.31 percent. And this story said Steve Pearce left his seat to run for Senate. Pearce left to run for Governor.