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.
The state’s top elections official and top lawyer issued a warning over an election “audit” taking place in Otero County, telling residents they are under no obligation to participate in the audit or provide any information. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, in a call with media members on Wednesday, referred to the effort as a “vigilante audit” and said “there is nothing that is legitimate about this process in my point of view.”
It came to light after a TikTok video by an Otero County voter received lots of attention when she highlighted a visit from a group called the New Mexico Audit Force.
The effort, which echoes efforts made by conservatives and some far-right politicians throughout the country regarding the 2020 elections, was authorized by the Otero County Commission and outsourced to the New Mexico Audit Force. That group is sending volunteers door-to-door to speak to voters and gather personal information. Attorney General Hector Balderas and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver issued a release to remind voters of their rights and what information is publicly available in the form of voter records. No voter is required to provide information on who they voted for or on how they voted on ballot issues, the two reminded.
The omnibus voting rights bill, SB 144, which would have expanded voting rights to many formerly disenfranchised and given protections to election workers passed the House in the final hours of the legislature but the bill ultimately failed after a filibuster by Senate Republicans . After a nearly 24-hour House debate on various bills, the House turned to the omnibus voting bill SB 144 around 7 a.m. Thursday in the final hours of the Legislature.
SB 144 began as a two-page bill ensuring the safety of election workers from intimidation. It had broad bipartisan support, receiving a unanimous due pass in the Senate chamber earlier this month. But state House Rep. Daymon Ely, of Corrales, and state Sen. Katy Duhigg, of Albuquerque, both Democrats, amended SB 144 to include measures from two other election bills, SB 6, which cleaned up and modernized language in the election code and SB 8, the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill, which expanded voting rights to many who have historically been disenfranchised and would have made voting easier and more streamlined for many.
The grafting of the three bills led to complaints from Republicans about “log rolling,” which is combining more than one unrelated bill together and is unconstitutional. Another complaint, made by state House Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, that the bill, once amended with provisions from SB 6 and SB 8, had not been vetted. Related: House committee passes ‘comprehensive’ voting bill that includes voting rights provisions
Grafting the three bills together was similar in process, Ely said on the House floor Thursday morning, to the omnibus crime bill which the House just sent to the governor by concurring with Senate changes.
The House Judiciary Committee passed an omnibus voting bill, SB 144, that includes provisions of two other voting bills, SB 8 and SB 6, on a party line vote of 9-3 Tuesday evening. After Senate Republicans blocked a Senate floor debate and vote on SB 8 over the weekend, House Democrats moved the provisions from that bill into another voting bill, SB 144. SB 144, sponsored by state Sen. Katy Duhigg, D-Albuquerque, initially aimed to protect election workers from intimidation, threat or use of force or violence, damage or harm while carrying out their duties during an election. The penalty for the crime is a fourth degree felony. The bill also has already passed the Senate, removing a barrier with less than two days left in the session.
The Senate Finance Committee passed the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill by a narrow vote of 6-5 on Thursday after a tie vote failed to strike a $20 million allocation into a state election fund. State Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, sided with Republicans to vote against the bill. This was the third Senate committee hearing for the bill. The previous committees amended the bill, striking some voter expansion provisions including allowing 16-year-old individuals the right to vote in local and statewide elections and backend automatic voter registration. Muñoz introduced the amendment to strike the provision allowing the Secretary of State’s office to create a permanent election fund of $20 million.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted to pass a committee substitute to the Voters’ Rights Provisions bill that strikes back end automatic voter registration. The 6-3 vote came along party lines. The Democrats voted in favor of the SB 8’s committee substitute, introduced by state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque. The Republicans on the committee voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, sponsored the bill.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said she is optimistic the bill aiming to expand voting rights will be passed and signed during this legislative session. SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, would expand voting rights in the state in a number of ways, including by allowing 16- and 17-year-old individuals the right to vote in local and state elections, allowing formerly incarcerated individuals to be eligible to vote upon release from prison and allowing individuals to automatically be registered to vote at the Department of Motor Vehicles with the option to opt out if they choose. Related: Advocates hopeful voting rights legislation will help break down barriers for the formerly incarcerated
“I’m extremely optimistic about SB 8 going through the legislative process,” Toulouse Oliver said during one of the two virtual rallies hosted by Progress Now New Mexico* on Wednesday to support the bill. “We’re in a really good position even in this late hour first hearing in committee.”
SB 8 was heard in the state Senate Rules Committee Wednesday. Toulouse Oliver gave an overview of changes to the language being introduced in a substitute bill that clarified language from the first bill.
A new report from the University of New Mexico’s Department of Political Science indicates that voter confidence is higher in state and county elections while voters are more polarized in national elections. This and other findings were discussed during a virtual press conference on 2020 voting information. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver also said during the press conference that if the new voting rights bill is passed, the NMSOS office would expect to see an increase in civic engagement. Toulouse Oliver held the virtual press conference on Wednesday to discuss the results of the report, called 2020 New Mexico Election Administration, Voter Security, and Election Reform Report. During the discussion, she said that if SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Peter Wirth, D-Santa Fe, passes, NMSOS would “see an increase in participation.” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed expanding voting rights this year.
Justin Allen, a community organizer, was eligible to vote in 2017 but he could not register until his third try, he said. And even at the third try, he required help from another organizer to convince the county clerk to allow him to register. Allen’s story is not unique, he and other community organizers told NM Political Report. Allen was released from prison in 2015. By 2017, he completed his parole and became eligible, per state law, to vote.
New Mexico’s governor along with the state’s top elections official announced support for legislation that would protect and expand voting rights in the state. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced their backing on Thursday, less than two weeks before the start of the state’s 2022 regular legislative session. The announcement also came on the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to stop the certification of electoral votes. The voting rights package proposed by Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver would expand online registration for voters, provide increased support for Native American residents and create a permanent absentee ballot list for those who request to be added.