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Herrell not contesting loss in congressional race

Republican Yvette Herrell, left, and Democrat Xochitl Torres Small

SANTA FE – Republican congressional candidate Yvette Herrell said Monday that she would not contest her general election defeat to Democrat Xochitl Torres Small in a southern New Mexico-based district, after her campaign inspected more than 8,000 absentee ballots cast in Doña Ana County.

Under state law, Herrell faced a Monday deadline to file a court challenge contesting the 2nd Congressional District race’s outcome, and her decision not to do so paves the way for Torres Small to hold the seat for the next two years.

In a statement, Herrell said she never intended to contest the election but indicated her campaign received enough claims of possible irregularities – from poll workers and individual voters – to seek a review of the absentee ballots, which was done after she filed a ballot impoundment lawsuit.

“It is important that voters have faith in the integrity of elections, and there was a need to know how the election administration took place and to see if anything could be learned that might be useful in terms of amending or updating our election code,” Herrell said.

Herrell, a former state representative from Alamogordo, also said she would release a full public report of her legal team’s findings in the coming days.

In her Monday statement, she cited 2,977 absentee ballots from Doña Ana County that were not returned after being requested – a figure her campaign described as being far higher than the usual unreturned ballot rate.

In addition, Herrell also expressed concern about a policy that allows New Mexico voters to request absentee ballots online and said state lawmakers should move to change the underlying law.

Some other Republicans, including former Gov. Susana Martinez, have suggested the online absentee ballot requests could open the door to voter fraud, but Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, has staunchly defended both the program’s legality and the integrity of the 2018 general election results.

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 Nov. 7 that roughly 4,000 absentee ballots in Doña 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 expanded her lead when roughly 1,100 provisional and hand-tallied ballots were added to the vote count in Doña Ana County.

Torres Small ultimately won the race by a 3,722-vote margin over Herrell – she received 50.9 percent of votes cast, compared with 49.1 percent for Herrell – based on final certified results, and was sworn into office last week in Washington D.C.