Despite a special congressional election well underway, with many absentee ballots already returned and early in-person votes cast, the New Mexico Supreme Court may consider a case that challenges the validity of one of the candidates whose name is on the ballot.
In April, a state district judge dismissed a claim that Chris Manning, the Libertarian candidate for First Congressional District, should not be on the ballot. Petitioners Ginger Grider and James Clayton, who are both members of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico, argued that the Libertarian Party should not have been granted major party status in the special election and that the party went against its own rules when nominating Manning. Grider and Clayton, through their attorney Blair Dunn, asked in April for the state supreme court to overturn the lower court’s decision. Dunn argued in the petition that the Libertarian Party should not be granted major party status since no gubernatorial or presidential candidate received at least five percent of the vote in the 2020 general election.
It’s unclear when the high court may make a determination or whether it will call for oral arguments, but the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office filed a response on Tuesday that argues the Libertarian Party of New Mexico rightfully holds major party status. In the response, General Counsel for the Secretary of State’s office Dylan Lange cited a 1996 opinion from then-New Mexico Attorney General Tom Udall that states major political parties can maintain their status if any candidate from the party gets at least 5 percent of the vote on a presidential or gubernatorial election ballot.
The special election to fill the now-vacant 1st Congressional District will take place on June 1. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced the date and said she would formally issue the special election proclamation on Thursday. The seat, which is centered in the Albuquerque area, is now vacant because Deb Haaland resigned earlier this week to become U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Joe Biden. “Deb Haaland’s historic confirmation as the nation’s first Native American cabinet secretary is a proud moment for all New Mexicans, but it also kicks off another important election cycle of which every eligible voter in Congressional District 1 should be aware,” Toulouse Oliver said in a statement issued Wednesday. “Now that Election Day is set, I encourage anyone interested in seeking the office to familiarize themselves with the laws and procedures outlined in the Election Code.
A bipartisan bill that would create new procedures to fill a vacant congressional position in New Mexico — perhaps soon enough to apply to the seat now held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland — cleared its first committee Monday. The Senate Rules Committee, on a 6-5 vote, advanced Senate Bill 254, sponsored by Rep. Daymon Ely, D-Corrales, and Sen. Mark Moores, R-Albuquerque. The measure would add a special primary election and special general election to fill a congressional vacancy. Under existing state law, the New Mexico secretary of state calls for a special election after a vacancy occurs, and then each major political party’s central committee nominates a candidate. The bill was born out of the possible vacancy that would be created in the 1st Congressional District if the U.S. Senate confirms Haaland to serve as President Joe Biden’s interior secretary.
Donald Trump’s campaign dropped a lawsuit over the use of ballot drop boxes in New Mexico’s elections—part of the campaign’s nationwide, unsuccessful efforts to overturn election results after he lost his reelection bid.
The campaign filed the lawsuit in mid-December, weeks after the election and after the state had certified its election results and the same day New Mexico’s electors cast their ballots for Democrat Joe Biden. The lawsuit centered on the legality of ballot dropboxes for absentee ballots, and echoed a lawsuit filed in state court by the party. The party withdrew that lawsuit ahead of the election after it said the party came to a “consensual resolution” with the Secretary of State. Like the other lawsuits, dozens of which the campaign had dismissed or lost, the lawsuit was aimed at overturning election results. But unlike in some states with relatively close margins of victory for Joe Biden, Trump lost the election in New Mexico by nearly 100,000 votes and over 11 percentage points.
On Tuesday, the New Mexico canvassing board certified the general election results from earlier this month, making the winners of races—including the presidential race—official, except for some races that require recounts. The state canvassing board—a three-person panel with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil—met in the Roundhouse on Tuesday. All counties had already certified election results. And last week, the state began its legally mandated process of auditing random precincts with hand recounts to ensure vote counts were accurate. In all, 928,230 voters cast ballots, for 68.67 percent voter turnout of the state’s 1.3 million registered voters.
Less than a week before New Mexico certifies its election results, President Donald Trump’s political team said there are allegations of voter fraud in the state, even as the state’s post-election process to verify and audit results moved forward. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani made the allegations as part of a rambling press conference on Thursday that contradicted some arguments the Trump campaign has made in courts. The Trump campaign has consistently lost their cases as they attempt to overturn election results in states where the Republican lost, like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. “And the state that we’re looking at that would surprise you, we’re seeing very, very significant amount of fraud allegations in the state of New Mexico,” Giuliani claimed. A spokesman for the Secretary of State said elections in New Mexico were secure.
As election vote counts drag on for days in some other areas of the country, New Mexico will finish its vote counting by Wednesday. This is despite not only record-breaking overall turnout, but also record-shattering voting by absentee ballot. It all took part with the backdrop of a worldwide pandemic, necessitating special procedures for elections. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report that Election Day largely went smoothly, with just “pedestrian, every election” problems that crop up, “nothing on a wide scale or systemic level.”
But the quick vote was a contrast compared to past elections in parts of the state, both the 2018 general election and this June’s primary elections. One example was Doña Ana County.
A Santa Fe state district court judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party of New Mexico against the New Mexico Secretary of State and two county clerks on Thursday.
The suit alleged that both the Taos and Guadalupe County clerks’ offices were not adequately monitoring absentee ballot drop boxes and requested that a judge issue a temporary restraining order, followed by a permanent injunction to “either immediately discontinue the use of drop boxes or ensure that they are made inaccessible to the public during non-polling hours and kept continuously, directly monitored by at least two bipartisan election officials during polling hours.”
A week before Election Day and days before the end of early in-person voting, the Republican Party of New Mexico filed two different legal actions against the New Mexico Secretary of State and two separate county clerk’s offices, regarding poll watching and ballot drop-boxes.
On Monday, the Republican Party of New Mexico filed a petition with the New Mexico Supreme Court asking for an emergency hearing for clarification on what personal identifiers poll watchers are allowed to review, compared to county clerk employees. That petition was denied by the high court Tuesday afternoon.
And on Tuesday morning, the state’s Republican Party filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and the Taos and Guadalupe County Clerks’ offices, claiming that absentee ballot dropboxes in those two counties are not being monitored according to state election law.
The two legal challenges are the latest in a series of lawsuits filed by the Republican Party across the U.S., many involving absentee voting. Absentee Ballot clarification denied
The petition filed with the New Mexico Supreme Court sought clarification from the high court and to challenge practices the state GOP said some counties were taking part in.
The petition alleges that at least some county clerks’ offices were not allowing volunteer poll watchers to adequately verify voter identifiers, in this case the voters’ last four digits of their respective Social Security number and their signatures.
According to the petition, volunteer poll watchers were only being allowed to verify ballots that were missing those two personal identifiers and not verify those identifiers “against a database for accuracy.”
Without naming them, the petition cites two “large counties” that initially allowed poll challengers to take part in the initial identification verification, but recently stopped “presumably in response to [Toulouse Oliver’s] directives.”
“In order to give effect to all these provisions without creating conflicts or nullities, presiding and election judges and challengers must be permitted to compare ballots with a roster containing the correct SSN digits, and they must be allowed to reject ballots and interpose challenges on the basis of incorrect voter identification information — not merely the complete absence of any numbers in the appropriate field,” the petition argued. The petition argued that the issue is “compounded” partially because of a new wave of younger poll workers, which was encouraged by Gov. Lujan Grisham and other elected officials in order to protect older poll workers who might be at higher risk of contracting COVID-19.
After the petition was filed, New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce released a statement hinting that county clerks who have not been allowing poll challengers to cross check Social Security numbers may be hiding something.
“County Clerks are elected by the people to work for the people – and now some are working in the shadows, denying the public access to ensuring we have an honest election,” Pearce said in a statement.
On Tuesday afternoon the New Mexico Supreme Court issued an order denying the Republican Party’s petition, with three of the five justices concurring, including the lone Republican justice Judith Nakamura. The denial did not offer any explanation for denying the petition.
In a press conference on Thursday Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse spoke about the voting efforts, as Election Day is just 40 days away and county clerks will begin sending absentee ballots to voters in less than two weeks. She also said that not every vote would be counted on election night, but that this is normal—and according to state law, all results are unofficial until the state canvassing board meets and certifies results on the third Tuesday after the election. The vote tallying by officials lasted for days after the election in some counties after the June primaries, but Toulouse Oliver said counties increased their boards that count absentee ballots to avoid this. She said that she believes a “majority” of votes will be tabulated and posted on election night.
And it will be needed, since there will be much more absentee ballots than in any previous year in state history. The Secretary of State’s office announced that 247,725 voters had requested absentee ballots as of Thursday morning.