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Republican Party files suit over absentee ballots

Voters cast their ballots at the Petroglyph Plaza Voting site on Albuquerque’s West side. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The state Republican Party and Las Cruces mayoral candidate Mike Tellez are asking a judge to prohibit the counting of some absentee ballots in Doña Ana County ahead of Tuesday’s consolidated local election.

They filed a lawsuit late Friday in the state’s 3rd Judicial District Court accusing election officials of preparing to improperly count ballots that are missing some of the required voter identification information.

Election officials at the state level and in Doña Ana County, the plaintiffs say, are ignoring a 2019 law that requires absentee voters to provide their name, address and date of birth.

Voters who provide two of the three – but not all three – are having their ballots approved for tabulation, the lawsuit says.

Steve Pearce, chairman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said Monday that he fears people will either vote twice or cast ballots even if they aren’t eligible.

“Fairness is at the core of what we’re about today,” he said.

Election officials, in turn, say they are following the law.

Voters who have already proved that they’re eligible, election officials said, don’t have to submit another round of voter ID information when they send in their absentee ballots.

A spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s chief election officer, said her office hadn’t been served with the lawsuit.

But “it’s unfortunate that the state Republican Party is taking issue with the statewide guidance we provided to all county clerks, which complies with the letter and intent of the law while not disenfranchising voters who have already verified that they are eligible to vote,” said Alex Curtas, a spokesman for Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat.

The suit comes as municipalities, school districts and other local agencies across New Mexico prepare for Tuesday’s election.

It’s the first consolidated local election since New Mexico enacted a law requiring school districts and local governments to hold their elections together in November of odd-numbered years.

The GOP lawsuit is asking a judge to order that any absentee ballots without the required voter ID information be sequestered until their legality is ruled upon.

The 16-page complaint also seeks a permanent injunction barring the counting of the ballots and a judgment explaining how to carry out the voter ID requirement.

“All we want is a fair election,” Tellez told a news conference.

The suit names as defendants Toulouse Oliver, Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda López Askin and the absentee voter board of Doña Ana County.

It comes after a similar dispute over the validity of absentee ballots arose in last year’s incredibly close race in the 2nd Congressional District.

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