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SANTA FE – The New Mexico Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected a Republican-backed election lawsuit, even as the GOP moved forward with a second court challenge over absentee ballot protocols.
With state election officials pushing early voting due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, voting via absentee ballot has already hit unprecedented levels across New Mexico.
A total of 265,739 absentee ballots had been cast statewide as of Tuesday morning – or about 44.8% of the roughly 593,000 votes cast in all.
That deluge of absentee ballots has prompted lawsuits even before vote counting begins, especially since the state’s laws regarding absentee voting procedures were updated in 2019 and earlier this year.
The petition denied Tuesday by three Supreme Court justices – the court’s two remaining justices had recused themselves – sought to guarantee that poll watchers could observe the initial verification of absentee ballots.
The Supreme Court denied the petition shortly after accepting written filings from both sides in the case. It did not provide an explanation for its ruling.
Alex Curtas, a spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said the decision “reaffirmed the legally sound processes and procedures being followed by the state’s election administrators when processing absentee ballots.”
But the state GOP said in a statement the Supreme Court’s ruling was politically motivated and disappointing.
Meanwhile, the other Republican Party lawsuit targets absentee ballot drop box protocols in two largely Democratic counties: Taos and Guadalupe.
In its 23-page lawsuit filed in Santa Fe-based 1st Judicial District Court, the Republican Party said it had evidence of ballot drop boxes being left unattended in Guadalupe County.
The GOP also alleged that a ballot drop box outside the Taos County courthouse has not been regularly monitored by poll workers.
While not providing any proof of it actually happening, the Republican Party said such practices leave open the possibility of ballots being stolen, damaged or destroyed – or that large amounts of improperly harvested ballots could be dropped off undetected.
Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said the ballot-box suit is aimed at ensuring election officials follow the law and protect voters’ ballots as they’re required to.
“We’re just wanting a fair election,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Under a 2019 state law, the drop boxes – or secured containers – can be installed outside traditional polling places, although county clerks are required to publicly disclose such locations in advance and adhere to strict security guidelines.
In a September memo to county clerks, the Secretary of State’s Office said county clerks should, at a minimum, have drop boxes available at every voting location.
The memo also stipulates minimum requirements for securing drop boxes, including constant supervision by at least two county staffers or election workers and daily ballot removal.
The Guadalupe and Taos County clerks could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday, but the Secretary of State’s Office said county clerks are expected to follow the established security standards.
Journal capitol bureau reporter Dan McKay contributed to this report.