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Herrell seeks to have absentee ballots impounded

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

There’s a new twist in southern New Mexico’s hotly contested congressional race, as Republican Yvette Herrell filed a court motion Tuesday seeking to impound more than 8,000 absentee ballots cast in Doña Ana County.

In an expedited petition filed in Las Cruces District Court, Herrell asked a judge to order State Police to seize the absentee ballots and related voting materials in the state’s second-most populous county so that potential improprieties can be investigated.

She did not cite any specific evidence of wrongdoing in the lawsuit but said impounding the ballots would ensure voter confidence in the election and that a “valid democratic outcome” is obtained.

Earlier Tuesday, the Doña Ana County Commission convened as the canvassing board and certified election results that show Democrat Xochitl Torres Small as the winner in the 2nd Congressional District race. Election results are not official until they are approved by the state canvassing board later this month.

Herrell delivered a victory speech on election night after several news organizations, including the Journal, projected her as the winner of a tight race that featured big spending and hard-hitting attacks by out-of-state groups.

However, the Secretary of State’s office announced after midnight on election night that roughly 4,000 absentee ballots in Dona Ana County still needed to be counted and an additional 4,000 absentee ballots had not yet been added to the vote tally.

Once those votes were counted, Torres Small overtook Herrell. She then expanded her lead Monday when roughly 1,100 provisional and hand-tallied ballots were added to the vote count in Doña Ana County.

The current unofficial election results show Torres Small with 100,570 votes and Herrell with 97,031 votes.

In the days following last week’s election, Herrell has refused to concede, and she and her campaign have not responded to numerous calls from the Journal, though she appeared on a Fox News interview last weekend.

During Tuesday’s meeting of the Doña Ana County canvassing board, several commissioners questioned County Clerk Amanda López Askin about the delay in counting the absentee ballots.

She said a shortage of poll workers and the huge number of absentee ballots made it difficult to complete the count by midnight. Ten poll workers quit right before the election, López Askin added.

The final tally showed there were 2,500 absentee ballots cast in 2014, 2,900 in the 2016 general election and 8,517 in this year’s general election.

“Based on what we have heard I don’t feel there were any issues with this election in terms of it being fair, in terms of making sure every effort … humanly possible was made to make sure every vote was counted,” commissioner Billy Garrett said.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s top election official, has said she will encourage Doña Ana County to begin processing absentee ballots earlier in the next election cycle and to hire more poll workers to avoid delays in the vote count.

But her office has also defended the integrity of the election and how the votes were counted in this and other races.

Herrell’s legal move is similar to one attempted by Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida, who dropped his court motion Monday after a judge ruled there was no evidence to justify impounding ballots there.

As of late Tuesday, Herrell’s lawsuit had been assigned to District Judge Manuel Arrieta, according to court records.

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