Otero County certifies 2022 election after threats of prosecution from State of New Mexico

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After pressure from both New Mexico State leaders and the New Mexico Supreme Court, Otero County commissioners voted 2 to 1 to certify the results of the 2022 primary election despite their past refusal to do so – a move government officials said ran afoul of state law.

The vote came Friday during an emergency meeting held after the board declined to certify the results at a Monday special meeting.

They expressed concerns with “ghost” votes where multiple ballots appeared to be filed from a home where all residents were allegedly dead and mistrust of Dominion voting machines.

County Commission Chairwoman and District 3 Commissioner Vickie Marquardt said County Clerk Robyn Holmes allayed the concerns about deceased voters.

She said the commission and people of Otero County must continue to hold the State accountable for what she called government overreach that compelled the board to certify the results, despite lingering suspicion of the voting machines.

Those doubts first arose when volunteer group New Mexico Audit Force attempted to prove voter fraud in Otero County but displayed no credible evidence, records show, and when Echo Mail began a similar audit that was halted as the county was investigated for misuse of public funds in its contract with the company.

Otero County planned to start a committee, Marquardt said, with other elected officials, state lawmakers and representatives from Dominion and that the company still had “some tough questions to answer.”

At times during her remarks before casting a yes vote, Marquardt’s voice cracked with emotion as she remained defiant even while voting to affirm the election.

She said she was voting yes after threats from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office that commissioners could be jailed if they continued to refuse to certify the election.

Marquardt said she’d rather vote for the certification, begrudgingly, than be removed from office, imprisoned and replaced by an appointee of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s choosing.

Otero County Commissioner Vickie Marquardt
Otero County Commissioner Vickie Marquardt

“I will be no use to the people of Otero County while in jail,” Marquardt said. “I don’t want to let anybody down. The support has been great. You all have lifted me up. I’d rather stay in office than let somebody else do it.

“If we don’t stay in office, then no one will be fighting for the ranchers and that’s what we’re here to do. I don’t think that’s what the voters of Otero County want is to have us replaced.”

Election certifications from county commissioners are required in a primary by New Mexico law for those candidates who won their party’s nomination to be on the ballot for the upcoming general election in November.

The Otero County Commission, per New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, presented no credible evidence as to why the primary election held June 7 should be questioned.

In the days since the initial vote by the commission to deny the certification, Toulouse Oliver filed a lawsuit with the New Mexico Supreme Court which subsequently issued a court order to compel commissioners to reverse their decision.

The Secretary of State’s Office also requested the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office open a criminal investigation into the actions of the board as Toulouse Oliver argued they violated commissioners’ duties of office.

And despite all that pressure, District 2 Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin remained defiant with the sole no vote at Friday’s meeting.

That came just hours after Griffin was sentenced in federal court to 14 days in jail, time served, and a fine of $3,000 for his role in the Jan. 6, 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

That incident saw Republicans and supporters of former-President Donald Trump storm the halls of Congress and call to overturn the results of the 2020 Presidential Election, where Trump lost the presidency to President Joe Biden.

Griffin called into the meeting from Washington, D.C. where his sentencing took place, speaking before the vote to share his frustrations with the Secretary of State, Attorney General’s Office and Democrat-led New Mexico government.

Otero County is in a rural portion of south-central New Mexico, where most public offices are held by conservative Republicans.

Griffin said he was not questioning any particular result of the election but wanted to make a point that the state must respect local officials.

He also said he had no proof of election fraud but maintained a “gut feeling” to not trust the results or process.

Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin speaks as he arrives at the Federal Court House in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2022. Griffin is charged with illegally entering Capitol grounds the day a pro-Trump mob disrupted certification of Joe Biden's presidential election victory on Jan. 6, 2021.
Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin speaks as he arrives at the Federal Court House in Washington, Monday, March 21, 2022. Griffin is charged with illegally entering Capitol grounds the day a pro-Trump mob disrupted certification of Joe Biden's presidential election victory on Jan. 6, 2021.

“If this is as far as our audit goes, and as far as this move that we made, it’s enough to prove how scared they are at the top of doing a real audit on our election,” Griffin said, eliciting cheers and applause from the audience gathered at the meeting.

“All we wanted to do is look inside at the technology in the Dominion machines and make sure they don’t have a modem that hooks up to the internet. We want to hand count ballots. These demands should be met.”

District 1 County Commissioner Gerald Matherly said he voted to certify the results only after the County Clerk mitigated his concerns of false ballots being cast.

Matherly said to not do so would nullify the efforts of political candidates, poll workers and voters of Otero County.

“I just want the election to be a trustworthy election. As of right now, we have no proven, black and white facts to show anything went wrong,” he said. “If I don’t certify the primary, then all these people that have worked on this election would all be for naught. I cannot do that to those people. Those people won the election fairly.”

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Alamogordo Daily News: Otero County affirms 2022 election amid threats from State of New Mexico