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New Mexico GOP sues to halt absentee voting in Las Cruces

November 4, 2019 GMT
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New Mexico Republican House Minority Leader James G. Townsend, left, and Republican Party of New Mexico chairman Steve Pearce, right, talk to reporters on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Albuquerque after announcing the party will challenge how the state is counting absentee ballots. The Republican Party of New Mexico said Monday it is suing the state's Secretary of State and a southern county clerk to halt the counting of absentee ballots after questions arose if the ballots were following requirements under a 2019 state law. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
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New Mexico Republican House Minority Leader James G. Townsend, left, and Republican Party of New Mexico chairman Steve Pearce, right, talk to reporters on Monday, Nov. 4, 2019, in Albuquerque after announcing the party will challenge how the state is counting absentee ballots. The Republican Party of New Mexico said Monday it is suing the state's Secretary of State and a southern county clerk to halt the counting of absentee ballots after questions arose if the ballots were following requirements under a 2019 state law. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The Republican Party of New Mexico is seeking an injunction to halt the counting of absentee ballots in a southern county over allegations state and local officials were ignoring requirements over ballot qualifications.

State GOP chairman Steve Pearce said Monday the party filed a lawsuit Friday after the Secretary of State and the Doña Ana County Clerk dismissed Republican concerns whether the absentee ballots were following prerequisites under a new law.

According to Republicans, the law signed by Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham this year called for absentee voters to provide names, addresses and years of birth on their absentee ballots. But Pearce said Doña Ana County opened by the absentee ballots without the proper information and mixed them up with other absentee ballots instead of setting them aside to be examined.

Pearce said the mixing up of ballots could taint all absentee votes and open up the possibility of illegal votes or people voting twice.

The state GOP said some Doña Ana voters had submitted improper ballots in the Las Cruces mayoral race

“The Secretary of State has indicated that she feels none of this is important at all,” Pearce said, referring to Maggie Toulouse Oliver. “She’s getting bad advice and rigging this for one side over the other.”

Pearce said Republicans want a district court to create a statewide system on how absentee ballots are counted and not leave it open to interpretation. He said the party wanted a ruling now and ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

During his unsuccessful run for governor in 2018, Pearce successfully sued Toulouse Oliver three times over rules and her campaign finance decisions.

The lawsuit comes a year after Republican U.S. House hopeful Yvette Herrell lost to Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small by around 3,000 votes to represent a congressional district in southern New Mexico. Torres Small’s victory came after absentee votes in Doña Ana County put her over the top.

In a statement, Toulouse Oliver spokesman Alex Curtas said the Secretary of State office was confident Doña Ana County was following the proper procedures and state law.

“While our office hasn’t yet been served any lawsuit, it’s unfortunate that the state Republican Party is taking issue with the statewide guidance we provided to all county clerks which complies with the letter and intent of the law while not disenfranchising voters who have already verified that they are eligible to vote,” Curtas said.

Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda Lopez Askin also said the county had not received the lawsuit. “Our office is focused on administering Doña Ana County’s first local election and is busily preparing for what we hope is a very busy election day,” she said.

Herrell said she was glad the state party was taking a proactive stance on absentee ballots. “I feel the voters will be vindicated,” she said.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras