October 30, 2020

Elections Director: GOP challenger in Doña Ana County told to ‘push the envelope’ by Republican Party

The state elections director is threatening potential legal consequences to the Republican Party of New Mexico after a Republican election challenger said the party told him to “push the envelope” on what was legal inside the absentee precinct board.

The incident allegedly began Friday when two Republican election challengers allegedly grabbed the Doña Ana County Bureau of Election Director, began filming him and did not comply with election board members’ requests to stop.

In a statement Friday evening, the state Republican Party denied that any assault occurred and said surveillance video showed this.

The challengers’ behavior is illegal, according to a letter Mandy Vigil, state elections director, sent to the Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce.

The election board came to a full stop of ballot tabulations, according to the letter.

The election board members ejected all four of the Republican challengers for disrupting and intimidating the absentee precinct board. The letter said there were specific reports of disruption from all the challengers. But, Alex Curtas, communications director for the Secretary of State Office, said that two of the challengers were allowed back in. Two, including the one who grabbed and began filming the county’s Bureau of Election Director, were not allowed to return, he said.

“This shameful and sneaky behavior by the Dona Ana Clerk must be dealt with,” Pearce said in a statement. “Amanda Lopez Askin goes out of her way to tarnish the election process. The false accusations against our poll challengers show how far she’ll go to tilt the election and violate the law.”

The statement from the Republican Party said that two of the challengers “were not involved and should never have been kicked out.”

Repeated calls to Lindsey Bachman, Doña Ana County chief deputy clerk were not returned.

The letter alleges that the challenger said he was “not going to listen to any instructions from the election board members” and that Republican Party officials told him to “push the envelope” on what was legal inside the absentee precinct board.

“This approach taken by Republican challengers will absolutely not be tolerated by election administrators and the fact that four challengers were removed shows that things have escalated beyond what is acceptable,” the letter states.

The letter says the Republican Party of New Mexico needs to assure election administrators it is not instructing challengers to disobey election board members in polling locations or where the absentee precinct board meets. Election administrators are “exploring legal avenues” until they receive that assurance from the party, the letter states.

The Secretary of State has said that one challenger per party per polling location is allowed but up to four challengers per party are allowed where the absentee precinct board convenes. Curtas said the county’s absentee precinct board tabulates the votes in a warehouse, which is a bigger space.

The letter also says that multiple county clerks have complained to the state election director’s office that Republican challengers are questioning election board members regarding video surveillance of drop boxes.

“It is causing disruption in voting locations and confusion among election officials. Drop boxes are to be monitored by bipartisan election workers and not by video surveillance,” the letter states.

In its statement, the Republican Party claimed that the Doña Ana County Clerk “found approximately 8,500 absentee ballots after voting had closed” in 2018.

Ballots were not “found,” instead pollworkers were unable to count all ballots on Election Night and finished counting on Wednesday.

Update: Added statements from the Republican Party of New Mexico.