SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Clashes continued Saturday between Republican election challengers and an absentee-ballot counting board in a southern New Mexico county at the center of a congressional swing district race.
State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said that another GOP challenger was ejected Saturday from a Dona Ana County vote counting facility as the person tried to get close enough to the ballot tallying machine to take a photograph of numbers on the machine. Four challengers were ejected Friday.
Challengers are appointed by political parties in New Mexico to be present as county election boards verify and tally ballots and can dispute the veracity of ballots for a variety of reasons.
Pearce says the GOP has instructed its challengers in Dona Ana County to take photographs of serial numbers and daily vote tallies on the machines to ensure an accurate count.
“How else can we make sure nothing happens in the middle of the night?” he said.
The state’s director of elections sought assurances Friday from the Republican Party that its poll challengers are not being told to disobey election board members, after four challengers were ejected Friday in an altercation with Dona Ana County’s absentee ballot counting board. Agency spokesman Alex Curtas said Saturday that the concerns had not been addressed yet by the party.
The letter from Elections Director Mandy Vigil described reports from Dona Ana County officials that a Republican election challenger grabbed an election board member, and that vote counting was interrupted.
Pearce says surveillance video was submitted to state elections regulators and shows that the altercation was not physical, and that the party is not instructing challengers to disregard election officials. The video was not immediately available.
Dona Ana County represents a crucial voting bloc in a swing-district congressional race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and Republican former state legislator Yvette Herrell. Torres Small won by fewer than 4,000 votes in 2018.
New Mexico’s Republican Party sued state election authorities unsuccessfully in the final days of early voting, saying its election challengers were unfairly denied access to the initial verification process for absentee ballots where signatures and partial social security numbers are reviewed.
The secretary of state’s office said some restrictions on oversight are necessary to protect personal identification information, and the state Supreme Court dismissed the suit.
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