Secretary of state asks AG to investigate Otero County commissioners

·2 min read

Jun. 16—Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver made good Thursday on her promise to ask Attorney General Hector Balderas to investigate Otero County commissioners for possible criminal and civil violations of New Mexico's election code.

Although expected, Toulouse Oliver's request to investigate the three-member commission is the latest salvo in a high-profile dispute over the certification of primary election results, which the commissioners refused to do. The commissioners, all Republicans, cited their distrust in Dominion Voting Systems' voting machines.

Their refusal prompted Toulouse Oliver to file a petition with the New Mexico Supreme Court, which gave the commission a Friday deadline to certify the results.

"All county officials take an oath to uphold the constitution and laws of New Mexico," Toulouse Oliver said Thursday in a statement. "The commissioners in Otero County have violated the public's trust and our state laws through their recent actions and must be held accountable."

Meanwhile, the county scheduled an emergency meeting for 4 p.m. Friday.

Only one item is on the agenda: "Request approval to certify the canvass of the 2022 primary election."

It's unclear what action the commission will take or even if all three commissioners will appear in person.

One of the commissioners, Couy Griffin, co-founder of Cowboys for Trump, is scheduled to be sentenced Friday after being convicted of illegally entering restricted grounds during the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol, according to a woman who answered the county government's main number Thursday.

According to Toulouse Oliver's letter, a willful violation of New Mexico's Election Code is a fourth-degree felony. The commissioners could also be removed from office.

"The commission continually refuses to comply with their mandatory duty under the Election Code in certifying the election returns and otherwise comply with the election code," she wrote in her letter to Balderas.

"Specifically, the Otero County Commission voted to hand count the election returns, to remove the secure containers mandated by the legislature to be in use for voters to return mailed ballots, and to discontinued use of the state certified voting systems or tabulators," she added. "All these actions are not permitted or are unlawful pursuant to the explicit terms of the election code."

Toulouse Oliver also wrote the commission "unlawfully voted" not to certify the election results.

"Certification is necessary to issue certificates of nomination and declare the official results of the 2022 Primary Election," she wrote. "Therefore, all these violations of laws implicate the criminal and civil penalties in the Election Code and the Governmental Conduct Act."

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.