AG examining Otero County vote to change election rules - Albuquerque Journal

AG examining Otero County vote to change election rules

In this file photo, a ballot drop box sits near the Main Post Office in Santa Fe. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

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SANTA FE – The state Attorney General’s Office is looking into a recent Otero County Commission vote to eliminate ballot drop boxes and halt the use of vote-tabulation machines.

In a letter this week, Novela Salazar, director of the AG’s advocacy and intervention division, asked the commissioners to respond in writing to a complaint alleging the changes would make it harder to vote in Otero County.

Salazar also reminded the commissioners of the county’s legal obligation to provide at least two secured containers this fall for people who want to drop off their absentee ballots rather than mail them.

The attorney general’s inquiry comes after the Otero County Commission in June voted to remove public drop boxes and discontinue the use of Dominion vote-tabulation machines. The county attorney warned them the vote wouldn’t be binding.

In an interview Tuesday, Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes said she plans to proceed with the general election as usual. Her office will conduct the election with tabulation machines approved by the state, in addition to offering secured containers for absentee ballots.

The tabulation machines are accurate, Holmes said, and the election procedures are set by the state, not individual counties.

“If I were to follow what they’re asking me to do,” Holmes said, “I’d be breaking the law.”

Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin said he isn’t “intentionally trying to break any laws.”

He simply wants “fair, legal and transparent elections,” he said.

New Mexico conducts its elections with paper ballots that are marked by voters and then fed into tabulation machines, which count the votes in each race. The machines are tested in public before they’re certified for use in each election.

The state also carries out post-election audits of precincts at random – counting the ballots by hand – to verify the accuracy of its official results.

Attorney General Hector Balderas’ office asked the Otero County Commission to respond within 10 days to the complaint about its election vote.

Spokeswoman Jerri Mares said the office is “evaluating the actions of the Commission and will take any actions necessary to uphold the law.”

The commission also was at the center of an election controversy this summer when it initially refused to certify the results of the June 7 primary. The commission later relented after an order from the state Supreme Court.

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