The House approved HB 399, which seeks to require counties with 35,000 or more people to expand their county commissions to five members, on Thursday by a vote of 40-28.
Only three counties would be affected by the bill should it pass: Otero, McKinley and Rio Arriba counties. “Thank you for the very strong-minded debate and the urgency that we all are coming to recognize,” bill co-sponsor Rep. Willie Madrid, D-Chaparral, said. “I have to say in closing, you know, when we talk about the statutes and listen to the discussion today, it was a start of the will of the people. They have to be a part of this.”
Commission districts must be equally distributed based on population alone. The county commissioner boards draw the new district maps, bill co-sponsor Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said.
After a year that included a southern New Mexico county commission refusing to certify a primary election, misinformation about New Mexico’s election security and how it has affected voter turnout, the Secretary of State’s Office and county clerks are ready for Election Day next week. “(The New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office) is feeling good about it, no reports of anything bad happening as far as we know,” New Mexico Secretary of State spokesman Alex Curtas said. “It seems people are voting easily and without disruption we’re getting pretty good turnout numbers… I wouldn’t be surprised if we got upwards of 60 percent for total turnout when all is said and done.”
On election night on Nov. 8, votes will be counted after the polls close at 7 p.m.
These include the absentee ballots which begin being processed (separated from the envelopes and shuffled to preserve voter anonymity) prior to election night. The absentee ballots are not run through machines until after polls close on Nov.
The city of Alamogordo passed a resolution on Tuesday designating the town of 31,000 as a “sanctuary city for the unborn,” despite more public opposition to the resolution than support for it. Of the public comments, 105 members of the public were opposed while 82 spoke in favor. Last month the Otero County commissioners passed a resolution declaring the county as a sanctuary for the unborn. The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico sent letters to both the city and the county with warnings that any attempt to prevent abortion in New Mexico is in violation of the state’s constitution and that the organization would pursue civil action. During an anti-abortion rally in Las Cruces last month, one speaker from Mississippi told the crowd that the way to turn New Mexico into an anti-abortion state was to start with the passage of a teenage consent law.
On Friday, the Otero County Commission voted against providing legal counsel for controversial Commissioner Couy Griffin. Griffin himself did not vote on the issue but the other two commissioners voted against approving county-provided legal representation for Griffin in a lawsuit against him filed in state district court.
Griffin has gained national attention, first for leading an organization in support of former President Donald Trump called Cowboys for Trump. Griffin again gained national attention for climbing over barricades during the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, an incident that would ultimately lead to a misdemeanor conviction of entering a federally restricted area. Griffin was acquitted of a disorderly conduct charge.
Congressional Democrats announced on Thursday that they have launched an investigation into an election “canvass” taking place in a southern New Mexico county, saying it is run by “conspiracy theorists” who believe the “Big Lie” that the 2020 election was invalid. The effort in Otero County, which has been called a “vigilante audit” by the state’s top election administrator, is run by an organization that calls itself New Mexico Audit Force in association with the company EchoMail, Inc.
Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York, the chairwoman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, and fellow Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, the chairman of the Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, sent a letter to V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, Ph.D., a former U.S. Senate candidate who runs EchoMail about the investigation and the possibility that it violates federal law. The company is involved in the Otero County effort. “The Committee is deeply concerned that EchoMail’s actions could undermine the integrity of federal elections and violate Americans’ right to vote,” the two wrote in the letter to EchoMail. “Your company’s proven lack of knowledge about the details of election administration, your personal advocacy of election conspiracy theories, and your partnership with a conspiracist volunteer group to canvass voters raise serious concerns that your actions will damage election integrity in Otero County and beyond, including by intimidating voters in violation of federal law.”
In addition, the two sent a letter to Assistant Attorney General Kristen M. Clarke at the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. “The canvass is being run by volunteers from a conspiracist group whose leaders said they plan to ‘pinpoint’ a ‘list of suspects’ for ‘criminal prosecution,’ and called for ‘arrests,’ ‘prosecutions,’ and ‘firing squads,’” the letter states.
It says the effort includes “potential voter intimidation” in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
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.
Citing $1 million a day of wasted federal dollars, the American Civil Liberties Union called on President Joe Biden’s administration on Wednesday to close 39 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities across the U.S., including the Otero County Processing Center in Chaparral. The federal government has been paying for the empty bed spaces at these facilities, almost all run by privately-owned companies, which the ACLU called “wasting” taxpayer money. The ACLU established a criteria for the 39 facilities it is calling on the federal government to close. In its statement, issued Wednesday, the ACLU said that Otero County Processing Center (OCPC) was included because of its “extensive record of civil rights violations and inhumane treatment.”
The letter, sent to The Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, urged the secretary to announce his intention to close ICE detention facilities across the country. “With lower ICE arrest rates and already reduced levels of detention arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, ICE is currently paying to maintain thousands of empty beds at enormous taxpayer expense—wasting hundreds of millions of dollars that would be better spent on alternatives to detention and other programmatic priorities,” the letter states.
As the issue of compulsory union dues and fees for public employees is pending at the U.S. Supreme Court, one New Mexico activist group is jumping from county to county, pushing local lawmakers to ban unions from requiring money to represent private sector workers. The libertarian non-profit Americans for Prosperity announced its reentry into New Mexico politics about a year ago. Funded by David and Charles Koch, Americans for Prosperity is a 501(c)(4), which means most of the group’s work has to focus on advocacy or education, rather than support or opposition of specific political candidates. Other groups with the same tax category include the American Civil Liberties Union, AARP and the National Rifle Association. In New Mexico supporters of right-to-work laws haven’t been able to pass a statewide right-to-work law for decades.