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.

State Supreme Court orders Otero County Commission to certify primary election results

The New Mexico Supreme Court ordered three county commissioners in southern New Mexico to comply with state law by certifying the county’s primary election results. 

After the three-member Otero County Commission refused to certify election results during a meeting on Monday, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver filed a petition with the state’s high court asking justices to compel the county commission to follow state law and to do their ministerial duty. On Wednesday, the state supreme court granted the writ of mandamus and ordered the commissioners to “comply with the requirements set forth in [state law].”

The commission has until Friday to meet and certify the election or presumably face a contempt of court charge. 

Otero County Commission Chair Vickie Marquardt could not be reached for comment, but Commissioner Couy Griffin told NM Political Report that he plans to “hold the line.”

“What the state is trying to do to us by leveraging us, and taking control, essentially, of our commission board through the courts, I believe, is very unconstitutional and it’s an absolute disgrace.”

Griffin was found guilty earlier this year of illegally entering a restricted area during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. 

State law requires that local governments certify election results within 10 days of an election and then send the results to state election officials for further certification. Until that process is completed, the election results are deemed unofficial and the winners of the primary election are not officially candidates. Holding up the certification process also means that Griffin’s colleague, Commissioner Gerald Matherly, who won his Republican primary race by 32 percentage points, is still not considered a general election candidate.

Ronchetti wins Republican nomination for governor

Mark Ronchetti, a former meteorologist, won the Republican primary for governor and will face incumbent Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham this November. Ronchetti won a five-way primary after being the candidate with the highest name recognition and the most campaign funds throughout the primary. In his victory speech, Ronchetti touted his credentials. “When I announced my campaign, I said I was running because politicians have forgotten us….they don’t listen. I’m a political outsider,” the former U.S. Senate candidate said, “and I won’t apologize for that.”

NM primaries were a mixed bag for state House incumbents

Voters decided on the nominees for the New Mexico House of Representatives in every district in the state on Tuesday. While many incumbents either successfully defended their seats from others in their own respective parties or did not face opponents at all, other races ended with ousted incumbents or new candidates. 

Here are some races that we watched closely. District 12 

Art De La Cruz handily won his three-way primary race against Democrats Melissa Armijo and Nicole Olonovich with 53 percent of the votes. De La Cruz is a former Bernalillo County Commissioner and was appointed to his current seat to fill a previous vacancy. 

De La Cruz was endorsed by two education organizations, a public sector labor union and a real estate development organization. De La Cruz, while a Democrat, received criticism from progressives for his support of the proposed Santolina development in Bernalillo County.  

District 17

Rep. Deborah Armstrong, citing family needs, opted not to run for the seat she has held for four terms. The district also saw significant boundary changes last year when the state Legislature redrew state House districts. 

Former Albuquerque city councilor Cynthia Borrego won the Democratic primary for House District 17 against her opponent Darrell Deaguero by 22 points.

Torrez wins Democratic Party nomination for attorney general

Raúl Torrez won the Democratic nomination for state attorney general, defeating Brian Colón. Torrez is a former federal prosecutor whose resume includes attending both Harvard and Stanford universities. He currently serves as the Bernalillo County district attorney—a position he has held for five years—and that county provided him with a healthy advantage. As results came in, Torrez took 57.7 percent of the early and absentee voters in Bernalillo County. 

As the district attorney, Torrez announced last year a memorandum of understanding with the state Indian Affairs Division to form a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Relatives Task Force subunit within the district attorney’s office. Torrez also served as assistant attorney general in 2008 and 2009 where he handled cases of police misconduct and exploitation of children.

Former Las Cruces City Councilor Vasquez wins CD2 Democratic nomination

The Associated Press has called former Las Cruces City Councilor Gabriel “Gabe” Vasquez the winner of the Democratic primary election for the 2nd Congressional District nomination, defeating Dr. Darshan Patel, of Lea County. On the Republican side, U.S. Rep. Yvette Herrell did not face a primary opponent. Vasquez will now run against Herrell in November. Herrell defeated Democrat Xochitl Torres Small in 2020 in one of the most contested, and most expensive, House of Representative seat races in the country. Democrats consider the 2nd Congressional District a race that is in play.

What to watch for in today’s primary elections

Voters, at least those who have not voted already, will decide which candidates will take part in November’s general election today. 

State races

The marquee race is on the Republican side, where five Republicans vie for the party’s nomination for governor. The winner will face incumbent Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham in November, who is unopposed in the Democratic primary. Two Libertarians, one of which is a write-in candidate, are also vying for their party’s nomination. Two public polls released in May show that former weatherman and 2020 Republican U.S. Senate nominee Mark Ronchetti with a healthy lead over his opponents. State Rep. Rebecca Dow, Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, retired National Guard Brigadier General Greg Zanetti and anti-abortion activist Ethel Maharg are the other candidates seeking the position.