December 13, 2004
N.M. Judge Refuses To Intervene in Presidential Recount Decision
By Deborah Baker
The Associated Press
SANTA FE A judge refused to order an immediate statewide recount of presidential votes, saying the matter should wait until the state canvassing board takes it up on Tuesday.
The board's chairman, Gov. Bill Richardson, reiterated his opposition to a recount, saying it "will not reform our election laws."
At the very least, the Libertarian and Green presidential candidates who requested it should be made to pay its entire cost upfront, the governor said Monday. Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron has said that could be upwards of $600,000.
A lawyer for the Greens and Libertarians told state District Judge Carol Vigil during a hearing Monday that the canvassing board has been dragging its feet on their request. They contend that under state law, the board should have met last week to order the recount and that poll workers should have been ready to begin counting Tuesday.
"We're facing a very serious delay here. . . . In our view, the deadlines were not met," said Lowell Finley, a California lawyer for the third party candidates.
Vigil, however, said the request that the court intervene was premature. She told the candidates if they don't like what the canvassing board does Tuesday, they can return to her courtroom Wednesday morning.
Finley said in an interview if the recount request is rejected the Greens and Libertarians will do just that, and that "money is no object."
Finley contends the canvassing board made up of the governor, the secretary of state and the chief justice of the state Supreme Court does not have the right to refuse to order a recount. Its failure to act is inexcusable, he told the court.
He called it "a dangerous situation in which New Mexico is on the verge of becoming another Florida."
Assistant Attorney General David Thomson disagreed with Finley, saying in an interview the board has "inherent discretion" whether to proceed with the recount. And he disputed Finley's assertions that the board has not abided by the time frame set out in the law.
"They are performing their obligation under the statute," Thomson told the judge.
Finley acknowledged that neither third party candidate could win the presidential race as the result of a recount, but he suggested that President Bush's nearly-6,000 vote win over Democrat John Kerry could be overturned.
"The margin is very small. It's under 1 percent," he said.
The Greens and Libertarians say a recount would point to possible problems with various types of voting machines and provide an overall look at how the election was conducted.
Richardson in a statement issued by his office said election law reform, "not recounts and lawsuits," is the key to protecting voters.
"I will not stand by while the taxpayers of New Mexico could be stuck with the inevitable cost of a recount, which could exceed $600,000," the statement said.
Earlier Monday, Republican presidential electors gathered in the secretary of state's office to officially cast New Mexico's five electoral votes for Bush, who defeated Kerry 376,930 to 370,942.
State Sen. Rod Adair of Roswell, who presided over the electors' meeting, said it felt "really great."
"We won by 5,988 much better than losing by 366," Adair said, a reference to Bush's whisker-thin loss in the state four years ago to Democrat Al Gore.
"I'm just really proud to be voting twice for President George Bush," said Ruth Kelly of Santa Fe, another elector. "I think he's a strong leader, and the man we need for this time."