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Ballots in 2nd Congressional District race impounded

Republican Yvette Herrell, left, and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small

LAS CRUCES – State Police impounded more than 8,000 absentee voter ballots in Doña Ana County on Monday morning so Republican Congressional candidate Yvette Herrell’s legal team can inspect the material that gave Democrat Xochitl Torres Small the votes she needed to win the election.

“The State Police showed up, oh, about 7:30 or so, given instructions by the judge,” said Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda Lopez Askin.

Herrell’s five-member legal team began painstakingly reviewing absentee voter applications and the envelopes that contained the absentee ballots cast in New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.

State statute allows any candidate the right to inspect ballots and other election material. Herrell filed a lawsuit seeking impoundment after Torres Small came from behind to win the election following a delay in counting Doña Ana County absentee ballots.

“Whatever we can do in Doña Ana County to confirm voter confidence, for them to know the process was administered with integrity, we will do it,” Lopez Askin said.

Five members of Yvette Herrell’s legal team inspect envelopes containing more than 8,000 absentee ballots in Doña Ana County after State Police impounded the ballots. (Angela Kocherga/Albuquerque Journal)

The court order from District Judge Manuel Arrieta allowed the ballots to remain at the county elections warehouse rather than be moved to the courthouse. The judge appointed a proxy to remain on site to monitor the inspection process, which also requires protection of voter privacy, including confidential information such as dates of birth and Social Security numbers.

An employee with the County Clerk’s Office on Monday examined each envelope that contained a ballot and redacted any information that could identify the person casting the ballot before it was given to Herrell’s team for inspection.

“This is just another closer look,” said Kate Girard, a legal representative for Torres-Small present during the inspection. She noted during the election observers and challengers “don’t get to touch” material.

Girard said she wholeheartedly supports a candidate’s right to an inspection “and they don’t have to have a legal basis for that, just to ensure the process is as transparent as possible.”

Torres-Small, meanwhile, is preparing to assume office Jan. 3 as southern New Mexico’s first Congresswoman and participated in new member orientation in Washington, D.C.

Herrell has 10 days to review election material. Her representatives involved in the inspection and legal team did not want to comment on the process.

“There are certain things I am concerned about,” said Joseph Fuller, a Doña Ana County Republican, about the absentee voter count.

Fuller plans to be at the warehouse as an observer during the entire inspection process. “My hope is I don’t have to take notes and everything runs smooth,” said Fuller.

He admitted the process is “very boring. If it’s exciting, something is wrong.”