FBI, prosecutors aim to protect election

Mona Belchak, second from left, trains poll officials Monday inside the Bernalillo County Bureau of Elections’ warehouse. Absentee voting starts Tuesday. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The FBI and federal prosecutors say they are establishing a command post and taking other steps to safeguard New Mexico’s general election from foreign interference, voter intimidation and fraud.

They joined Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s chief election officer, in a news conference Monday to encourage voters to seek out trusted sources of information and avoid falling for conspiracy theories designed to shake confidence in the election system.

Their message comes as absentee voting begins Tuesday, when county clerks will begin mailing ballots to voters who have requested them. Voters can also fill out absentee ballots in person at their clerk’s office.

More than 305,000 voters have already requested absentee ballots – an unprecedented influx as more New Mexicans prepare to vote from the safety of their homes to avoid in-person polling locations amid the pandemic.

James Langenberg, the FBI’s special agent in charge of the Albuquerque office, said Monday that his agency is also establishing a command post to help monitor the election – something he couldn’t recall the FBI having done in recent elections.

The FBI also completed table-top exercises, he said, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Peña has been designated to oversee the handling of any complaints about election fraud or voting-rights violations in New Mexico.

“I have 100% confidence in the election,” Langenberg said. “We’re doing everything we can here in New Mexico.”

He said there was no evidence that the election has been compromised by cyber intrusions or foreign influence. Nonetheless, he encouraged New Mexicans to stay vigilant and alert authorities if they spot illegal activity.

Toulouse Oliver and federal law enforcement officials also encouraged voters to seek out information from county clerks and state election officials, not from social media accounts that provide fertile ground for misinformation.

It’s normal, Langengberg said, for some ballots not to be counted on election night, and he urged people to stay patient if the outcome of some races isn’t clear.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver participates in a news conference about election security, alongside FBI Special Agent in Charge James Langenberg, left, and U.S. Attorney John Anderson. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Toulouse Oliver said New Mexico has important protections in place to ensure an accurate vote count. The state uses paper ballots marked by voters, she said, allowing for post-election audits and hand tallies.

“New Mexicans can rest assured their ballots will be counted accurately,” Toulouse Oliver said.

The state has a voter information portal at nmvote.org – where people can request absentee ballots, view the list of candidates or update their voter registration.

Tuesday is the last day for online voter registration changes, though voters can still register in person.

The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot is Oct. 20, and the deadline to mail them back is Oct. 27. The ballots can also be returned in person by 7 p.m. election night.

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