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Judge denies New Mexico GOP’s request to halt absentee votes

November 5, 2019 GMT
Republican Party of New Mexico chairman Steve Pearce talks 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 question arose if the ballots were following requirements under a 2019 state law. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)
Republican Party of New Mexico chairman Steve Pearce talks 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 question arose if the ballots were following requirements under a 2019 state law. (AP Photo/Russell Contreras)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A state district judge denied Monday an emergency injunction filed by New Mexico Republicans to halt the counting of absentee ballots in a southern county amid allegations state and local officials were ignoring requirements over ballot qualifications.

In a decision, Third Judicial District Judge James Martin wrote that the state Republican Party and Las Cruces mayoral candidate Mike Tellez failed to provide evidence the Doña Ana County Clerk was causing harm by the way it was tallying absentee ballots.

Martin also said Republicans knew since Oct. 31 about the way the county clerk was handling absentee ballots and waited until the “last hour of the last day” before Tuesday’s election to file a motion. “Therefore, the claim of irreparable harm rings hollow,” Martin wrote.

GOP officials in a lawsuit filed Friday claimed Democratic state Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and the Doña Ana County Clerk were ignoring a 2019 law over for absentee voting requirements.

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 State Republican chairman Steve Pearce said Doña Ana County opened the absentee ballots without the proper information and mixed them up with other absentee ballots instead of setting them aside to be examined.

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

Pearce said in a statement the injunction decision didn’t change the validity of a lawsuit seeking to clarify how New Mexico counts absentee ballots.

“Our position is that the New Mexico Secretary of State is wrong, and we will continue our suit and the fight to ensure elections in our state are fair,” Pearce said.

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

Secretary of State spokesman Alex Curtas said the office remains confident the statewide guidance it provided to county clerks complies with the letter and intent of the law.

“Our office remains laser-focused on making sure every vote is counted properly, and it’s a shame that the Republican Party is questioning the integrity of our elections and attempting to make it harder for qualified voters to cast their ballots,” Curtas said.

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