Election audit prompts pushback from New Mexico auditor

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The state auditor is the latest top Democratic official to push back against an independent audit of the 2020 election in one rural New Mexico county, as questions about irregularities and fraud continue to circulate in more conservative pockets across the U.S.

State Auditor Brian Colón’s office sent a letter Monday to Otero County commissioners saying the county is deficient in its ability to properly oversee contract compliance, pointing specifically to a recent contract signed with the private company it hired to review election records.

The letter also stated that the audit isn’t in the best interest of residents and amounts to political grandstanding.

“It appears that the County Commission failed to treat their government position as a public trust and instead used the powers and resources of their public office to waste public resources in pursuit of private interests concerning unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud,” the letter reads.

County Commissioner Couy Griffin was quick to address the letter’s allegations. If the state has nothing to hide, he said there would be no harm in following through with the audit.

“The state wants to say that they have done audits on our election, but in my opinion that is like the criminal heading the investigation,” Griffin told The Associated Press, saying he did not trust the secretary of state and only becomes more suspicious as New Mexico politicians apply more pressure on the county to stop the audit.

Nearly a year and a half after the 2020 election, the U.S. continues to grapple with claims surrounding President Joe Biden’s win. Ballot reviews have been conducted across the country, from Arizona’s Maricopa County to Fulton County, Pennsylvania.

In Wisconsin, a former state Supreme Court justice examining the 2020 election in that battleground state laid out his interim findings just weeks ago and recommended that legislators consider decertifying that state’s presidential result — a move attorneys have said is illegal.

An Associated Press review of votes cast in battleground states contested by former President Donald Trump also found too few cases of fraud to affect the outcome.

In conservative-leaning Otero County, Griffin said door-to-door canvassing has turned up cases in which the people who voted did not live at the addresses provided. A ballot scan also is being conducted.

“I can honestly say I don’t have skin in this deal. I just want to be able to sleep at night knowing that there’s not fraud happening,” Griffin said. “The question of fraud is not going to go away until we have independent audits at the county level. That’s all we’re trying to do — find out the truth.”

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico’s top election regulator, issued a warning about the audit last week. She told residents to be wary of what she called intrusive questions and potential intimidation by door-to-door canvassers.

The commission in January authorized a $49,750 contract for a countywide review of election records and voter registration information linked to the 2020 general election. They accepted a proposal from EchoMail — one of the contractors hired by Arizona’s Republican-controlled state Senate to review election results in Maricopa County.

Though Trump won nearly 62% of the vote in Otero County in 2020, county commissioners have said they are not satisfied with assurances of an accurate midterm election in 2022 by their county clerk or results of the state’s risk-limiting audit.

The state auditor’s office pointed to three audits done by the county clerk after the 2020 election, saying no inaccuracies were noted and that the error rate between hand counting and machine counting ballots was so low that no additional testing was needed.