June 17, 2022

Facing removal from office, criminal charges, Otero County certifies election results

A controversy over certifying election results in Otero County that made national headlines ended quietly on Friday with a 2-1 vote in favor of certifying the results. 

Facing possible criminal charges and removal from office, Otero County Commissioners Gerald Matherly and Vickie Marquardt voted to certify the county’s primary election results, while Commissioner Couy Griffin stayed true to his word and voted against certification. All are Republicans. Griffin, who hours before, was sentenced by a federal judge for being in an unauthorized area during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, said his reason for voting against the certification wasn’t “based on any evidence,” but instead his intuition. 

“It’s only based on my gut, my gut feeling, and my own intuition and that’s all I need to base my vote on the elections right there,” Griffin said. 

A breath later, Griffin criticized “the media” for ignoring facts that he said the commission had found that allegedly show state elections are fraudulent. 

“I still believe that our elections are fraudulent,” Griffin said. “I believe that we already have enough evidence to prove, to substantiate what the media keeps calling unsubstantiated. Well, we have substantiated it in Otero County.”

Griffin, Marquardt and Matherly all raised concerns in a previous meeting about suspected problems with state voting tabulators but did not raise any specific allegations. 

On Friday, Griffin echoed his own previous comments about being able to see the inside of the voting machines. 

“All we wanted to do was look at the technology inside the Dominion machines to make sure that they don’t have modems in them to hook to the internet and we want to hand-count the ballots,” Griffin said. 

Matherly also acknowledged that the commission had no specific evidence of voter fraud or vote tampering. 

“As of right now we have no proven black and white facts that anything was wrong,” Matherly said. 

Later, Matherly added that he ultimately voted to certify the results because of the many local candidates who spend time and money on their campaigns and would not be noted as official winners until the results are certified.   

“It would all be for naught and I can’t do that for those people,” Matherly said. “Those people won the election fairly.”

Matherly himself was a candidate in the primary election, which he handily won. 

Marquardt said she decided to vote in favor of the certification because New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas signaled that he would seek criminal charges against the commission if it collectively voted against certification. Marquardt said she did not want the entire commission to be removed and subsequently replaced by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

“The New Mexico Supreme Court, the Democrat-controlled New Mexico Legislature and the Democrat-controlled secretary of state and the attorney general will not allow us to withhold approval pending an investigation into these issues,” Marquardt said. “Instead, they are railroading this commission and rubber stamping approval under the threat of criminal charges in jail.”

State law requires that county commissions, which, by virtue, also serve as county canvassing boards, “shall meet to approve the report of the canvass of the returns and declare the results no sooner than six days and no later than ten days from the date of the election.”

State also allows county commissions to take specific action if there are discrepancies that commissioners feel need to be addressed. Commissioners can summon precinct boards to address discrepancies or errors but are required by law to notify the New Mexico Secretary of State. 

There are other mechanisms that can lead to rechecking voting machines, but they also require the involvement of a state district court judge. Candidates can also request recounts, but that involves a surety bond that can be refunded if the candidate requesting the recount turns out to be the winner.  

Earlier in the day, at least two other county commissions were faced with voting to certify their respective elections. In Torrance County, all three county commissioners voted to certify its elections, but not without a number of members of the public interrupting the meeting by shouting at the commissioners, at certain points in the meeting calling the commissioners “cowards” and “traitors.” Eventually, the commission allowed time for public comment, which consisted entirely of residents who called on commissioners to vote against certifying returns for Torrance County. Some members of the public hinted that commissioners may face a tough time getting elected if they voted in favor of certification. One man called on the commission to “do the right thing.”

“You’re not elected by the Secretary of State, you’re elected by the people of Torrance County,” the man said. 

Another man said that commissioners were putting themselves “at odds with the people who put you in power.”

The three-panel commission voted unanimously in favor of certifying the election results, but Commissioners Ryan Schwebach and Kevin McCall both said they sympathized with the audience, but that they were bound by law.

In Sandoval County, commissioners voted 4-1 to certify the election results. Jay Block, who lost his bid to win the Republican gubernatorial election, was the only dissenting vote. Block was interrupted by the crowd before he could finish reading a statement explaining his vote, which ultimately led to the meeting being adjourned. 

David Levine, the Elections Integrity Fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy told NM Political Report earlier this week that he has seen a number of instances across the country where Republican office holders are faced with death threats and other intimidation, censured by their party or elected out of office. 

“There’s an unmistakable message that is making its way through much of the Republican Party today. And that is if you’re not willing to manipulate election results, or claim that the elections were rigged, then you don’t have a future in the party,” Levine said. “I would imagine that, particularly in deep red places, that message is loud and clear.” 

Now that counties have certified their elections, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office will be tasked with another round of certifications. Once that is done, primary winners will receive a certificate of candidacy for the November general election.