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.

Report shows low voter confidence for national election results, but more confidence in state and county elections

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.

Secretary of State and state Libertarian Party, argue legal ballot challenge lacks merit

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.

Court throws out challenge of Libertarian congressional candidate

A New Mexico state district judge ruled on Thursday that a Libertarian candidate for Congress will remain on the ballot for the June 1 special election to fill a 1st Congressional District vacancy. 

Santa Fe judge Glenn Ellington ruled from the bench that claims challenging the validity of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico’s major party status were not sufficient enough to remove the party’s candidate from a special election ballot. 

Chris Manning is the state’s Libertarian Party nominee for the special congressional election to fill the vacant seat after former congresswoman Deb Halaand was confirmed as U.S. Secretary of Interior. Ginger Grider and James Clayton, both members of the Libertarian Party of New Mexico filed a legal challenge, arguing that the Libertarian Party should not have been granted major party status and that the party broke its own rules by nominating Manning. Ellington ruled Grider and Clayton did not have standing to challenge the Libertarian Party’s major party status and that her claim that Manning was nominated against the party’s rules was not substantial enough to move the case forward. 

Grider and Clayton’s attorney, Blair Dunn, told NM Political Report that he plans to appeal Ellington’s ruling and accused the court of being steeped in partisan politics. 

“We’re concerned that the court system is continuing to prop up the party system and the denial of standing to members of the party, and denying them even the opportunity to present the evidence is part of why political parties have become such a problem in this country,” Dunn said. 

Dunn’s father Aubrey Dunn is also running for the 1st Congressional District seat, but as an independent candidate. Aubrey Dunn’s campaign ads position him as a candidate tired of partisan politics. Dylan Lange, general counsel for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office, praised the court’s decision in a statement on Thursday. 

“We are pleased that the Court’s ruling affirms that the Secretary of State’s Office appropriately followed the law,” Lange said. 

Manning also said he was pleased with Ellington’s decision and that he’s ready to move on and focus on his campaign.  

“I’m glad the judge saw what we saw and this case had no merit,” Manning said. 

The crux of Grider and Clayton’s challenge of the Libertarian Party’s major party status was that no Libertarian received at least five percent of the vote in the last general election.

Secretary of State, Speaker of the House address voting concerns: ‘It is safe to vote in person’

Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said it is safe to vote in-person and emphasized COVID-safe practices in place at polling locations in the state during a Facebook Live event Wednesday afternoon addressing election and voting concerns. 

“I want to remind everyone watching that it is safe to vote in person in New Mexico,” Egolf, a House Democrat, said. “The Secretary of State and the County Clerks have made sure that election workers have personal protective equipment. As long as you’re wearing a mask and stand six feet away from folks, it is perfectly safe to vote in New Mexico, early and on election day. So please don’t be afraid to go out and vote.”

So far, more than 620,000 voters have already cast their ballots, representing roughly 80 percent of the 2016 election. 

“We are seeing record breaking turnout in New Mexico, no question,” she said. 

Toulouse Oliver also encouraged voters to vote early if possible, and to be prepared for a wait if they vote in-person. 

“We have several full days of early voting left, plus Election Day itself,” she said. “Usually we have a majority of the vote cast before Election Day but just a huge chunk is cast on Election Day.

Secretary of State talks voting by mail in New Mexico

Election Day is a month and a half away and New Mexico’s Secretary of State Maggie Tolouse Oliver wants voters to know the state’s election process works and is safe and secure. 

Over the past several weeks, there has been speculation from President Donald Trump and the Republican Party that voting by mail could result in widespread voter fraud. Questions about how secure mail in ballots are is nothing new. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a push by many to encourage voters to mail in their ballots instead of showing up in person to vote. 

Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report that she is confident in both her staff and the county clerks’ ability to accurately and efficiently process ballots on Election Day and even the days leading up to it. 

National political rhetoric has also seemed to create confusion in New Mexico whether mailing in a ballot is safe. Trump has expressed his concern with mailing in ballots, yet he has voted by mail in Florida, where he is registered to vote. Further, the Republican Party of New Mexico has sent out at least one batch of mailers, encouraging voters to request an absentee ballot and vote in support of Trump.

Straight party issue spurs Portales Libertarian to run for Secretary of State

New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s decision to add straight-party ticket voting to November’s ballot has caused waves across the political party spectrum. But, besides uniting independents, Libertarians and Republicans in a state Supreme Court challenge, Toulouse Oliver’s proposed action has spurred one Portales woman to try and take over as the state’s election administrator. Libertarian Ginger Grider said Toulouse Oliver’s decision to put  a straight-party ticket option on the ballot in November “greatly influenced” her decision to run for Secretary of State. A straight-party option on the ballot would allow voters to mark a political party of their choice as an indication for votes further down the ballot. By marking a ballot for the Democratic Party, for example, every Democrat on the ballot receives a vote.

Libertarian Secretary of State nominee drops out of race

The race for New Mexico Secretary of State is down to two candidates after the Libertarian nominee Sandra Jeff dropped out on Tuesday. In a letter to the New Mexico Libertarian Party of New Mexico, Jeff cited “unforeseen personal obligations” as the reason she is ending her campaign. Jeff did not answer calls from NM Political Report, but state Libertarian Attorney General nominee and de facto party spokesman Blair Dunn said Jeff plans to run instead for Vice President of the Navajo Nation. “Certainly from our party’s standpoint, she’s already been doing quite a bit to promote libertarianism in the [Navajo] Nation and we think it’s really cool and it’s a very big opportunity and big honor to have her take that over and to have that role, especially as a Libertarian,” Dunn said. Unlike when the Libertarian candidate dropped out in the race for U.S. Senate, there isn’t a high-profile replacement waiting in the wings.

Libertarians miss general election ballot for governor

New Mexicans likely won’t see a Libertarian candidate for governor on the ballot in November. While still unofficial, the results of a recount conducted Wednesday show the party’s primary candidates for those races lacked enough write-in votes to make it onto the general election ballot. Bob Walsh, a gubernatorial hopeful, and Robin Dunn, running for lieutenant governor, both entered the race on the Libertarian ticket after the filing deadline, forcing them to run as write-in candidates. Per state law, Walsh and Dunn each needed 230 votes in the primary election to be included as candidates in November. Walsh was short by 44 votes, and Dunn by 40, to make it onto the general election ballot.

GOP Secretary of State candidate drops out of race

New Mexico Republican candidate for Secretary of State and Albuquerque lawyer  JoHanna Cox announced Wednesday she’s dropping out of her race. Cox cited the need to take care of her family as why she could not continue running. “Unfortunately, I am unable to continue this campaign because my family requires my full attention at this moment,” Cox wrote in a statement. Cox said she would “give my full support to the candidate who takes my place on the ballot.” The Albuquerque Journal recently reported Cox faced three legal malpractice lawsuits in the past six years.