(ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.) — Deep-seated conspiracy theories about the security of voting machines erupted into heated, angry and at times threatening outbursts Friday as New Mexico counties decided whether to certify results from their recent primary, underscoring the depths of an election crisis that officials fear is foreshadowing darker times ahead for the nation’s democracy.
One politically conservative county saw angry citizens greet their commissioners with shouts and vitriol during the meeting to discuss certification. As the visibly frustrated Torrance County commissioners indicated they were going to vote to certify their election, the audience shouted “Shame on you,” “cowards and traitors,” and “Who elected you?”
Commissioners begged the audience to have patience, and stated that any concerns regarding alleged election vulnerabilities would be resolved eventually.
“The time and place to fight this battle is not by canvassing this election,” Chairman Ryan Schwebach told the crowd.
Since the 1960s, the routine of certifying elections has been performed by under-the-radar commissions. This has become politicized after former President Donald Trump attempted to undermine it following the defeat to Joe Biden in 2019.
New Mexico’s heavily Republican rural county brought this issue to our attention when it said that its local certification commission would not accept the results of the June 7th primary due to concerns about Dominion voting systems. However, no evidence was found.
The controversy that began in Otero County boiled over on Friday as commissions in the last of the state’s 33 counties were meeting to decide whether to certify results.
This passionate fight was an example of chaos election specialists have been warning about. Those who believe Trump won’t be reelected seek out election offices all over the country, as well as the low-profile boards that verify the results.
This week, Otero County was ordered by the New Mexico Supreme Court to accept the election results. Otero County had been asked to do so by the Democratic Secretary of State. The Democrat state attorney general threatened additional legal action if Otero County’s Republican-dominated Commission did not follow the law.
It could be possible to charge commissioners with violations of the state’s election or government ethics laws. This can result in a felony and the removal of an officer.
The Otero County commissioners were unfazed at least one. CNN spoke with Commissioner Couy Griffin, who said that he didn’t plan to vote for certification.
“Why have a commission if we just get overridden by the court system?” he said.
There was no immediate information on what to do if Otero, or another county refuses certification.
New Mexico’s primary ballot included races at all levels — including Congress, governor, attorney general and a long list of local offices. Those races won’t be official until all counties are certified, which leaves candidates and their campaigns in limbo.
These developments are due to conspiracy theories of far-right nature about voting machines, which have been spreading across the country in the last two years. Trump associates have claimed Dominion voting systems were manipulated to steal Biden’s victory.
It is not clear that widespread fraud of manipulation of voting machines could have affected the results of the 2020 elections.
Dominion has filed several defamation lawsuits, including against Fox News, and in a statement earlier this week said the action by the Otero County commissioners was “yet another example of how lies about Dominion have damaged our company and diminished the public’s faith in elections.”
New Mexico election officials are paying attention. The secretary of state’s office said Friday it has been flooded with calls from officials concerned that certification controversies will become a new front in the attacks on democratic norms and could affect future elections, especially in 2024.
Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes, a Republican in her fourth term as the county’s lead elections administrator, told The Associated Press that the June 7 election was conducted without problems. The 16 polling centers had machine counts that matched the total number of ballots distributed.
“The primary went off without a hitch,” she said. “It was a great election.”
So far, all but four of the state’s 33 counties have certified their results, and no other county officials have said publicly that they intend to vote against certification.
Bernalillo County, which includes Albuquerque and is the state’s most populous, unanimously certified its results earlier Friday. Commissioners agreed they saw no evidence of problems during the primary, but Commissioner Walt Benson acknowledged that a lot of people just don’t trust the system.
Otero County requires that two of three county commissioners vote in support of certification.
Griffin is scheduled Friday to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., after being convicted of entering restricted U.S. Capitol grounds — though not the building — during the Jan. 6 insurrection.
State election officials advised the sentencing judge of Griffin’s refusal to certify primary election results in New Mexico.
This report was contributed by the Associated Press reporters Christina Almeida Cassidy, Scott Sonner, Reno, Nevada and Terry Tang, Phoenix
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