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Election official warns residents about door-to-door canvas

March 3, 2022 GMT
FILE - In this July 24, 2018, file photo, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. During the tumultuous period immediately following the November 2020 presidential election, election workers across the country faced harassment and threats. Since then, legislators in a small but growing number of states have proposed measures to help protect those workers by creating or boosting penalties for such threats or assaults. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this July 24, 2018, file photo, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. During the tumultuous period immediately following the November 2020 presidential election, election workers across the country faced harassment and threats. Since then, legislators in a small but growing number of states have proposed measures to help protect those workers by creating or boosting penalties for such threats or assaults. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this July 24, 2018, file photo, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. During the tumultuous period immediately following the November 2020 presidential election, election workers across the country faced harassment and threats. Since then, legislators in a small but growing number of states have proposed measures to help protect those workers by creating or boosting penalties for such threats or assaults. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this July 24, 2018, file photo, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. During the tumultuous period immediately following the November 2020 presidential election, election workers across the country faced harassment and threats. Since then, legislators in a small but growing number of states have proposed measures to help protect those workers by creating or boosting penalties for such threats or assaults. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this July 24, 2018, file photo, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver speaks during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington. During the tumultuous period immediately following the November 2020 presidential election, election workers across the country faced harassment and threats. Since then, legislators in a small but growing number of states have proposed measures to help protect those workers by creating or boosting penalties for such threats or assaults. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s top election regulator and prosecutor are warning residents of Otero County to be wary of intrusive questions and potential intimidation by door-to-door canvassers linked to a review of the 2020 election that was authorized by the Republican-led county commission through a private company.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, said Wednesday that many Otero County residents have been caught off guard when approached by canvassers affiliated with the group New Mexico Audit Force — that claim in some instances to be employees of Otero County.

“The information that we’ve received is that ... they say they’re from the county,” said Toulouse Oliver, describing complaints from resident that have been reviewed by her office. “So really one big concern is, ‘Who are these people? How did they get my personal information? Why are they asking me questions not only about how I voted but about things like my marital status?’”

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On Wednesday, she and Attorney General Hector Balderas issued a written advisory that encouraged residents to report voter harassment or intimidation.

“You are not required to participate in this so-called ‘audit’ or provide any information unless you choose to do so,” the notice states.

The Otero County 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.

EchoMail’s “forensic audit” proposal in Otero County called for volunteer canvassers from New Mexico Audit Force to go door to door to review voter registration data.

Toulouse Oliver said complaints of misrepresentation and intrusive questions by canvassers are concerning because of the potential to undermine public confidence in the security of voter information and discourage participation in elections. She said that a TikTok video about about an encounter with canvassers led to a deluge of calls to state authorities with questions and complaints.

“You know, it has folks just very concerned about how protected their personal information is,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Nearly a year and a half after the 2020 election, the U.S. continues to grapple with false claims surrounding President Joe Biden’s win.

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Ballot reviews have been conducted across the country, from Arizona’s Maricopa County to Fulton County, Pennsylvania. A former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice examining the 2020 election in that battleground state laid out his interim findings this week and recommended that legislators should consider decertifying the state’s presidential result — a move attorneys have said is illegal.

Proponents like to call the reviews a “forensic audit,” but they differ markedly from audits that follow standard procedures and are conducted by experienced professionals.

Otero County Attorney R. B. Nichols cautioned commissioners against the election review because it was unlikely to provide “taxpayer value,” could overburden local election officials with records requests in an election year, and could lead to costly civil rights lawsuits against the county.

EchoMail was among the contractors hired by Arizona’s Republican controlled state Senate to review the 2020 election in Maricopa County and provide a report on ballot envelope images, Nichols said. The Maricopa County election department found that nearly every finding by the contractors included faulty analysis, inaccurate claims, misleading conclusions and a lack of understanding of federal and state election laws.

The Otero County election review was pitched to the commission by Las Cruces-based engineer Erin Clements and her husband, David, a former public prosecutor and conservative public speaker who bills himself as a traveling salesman for forensic election audits.

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

“Nationwide I think we got screwed,” Commissioner Vickie Marquardt said at a discussion of the audit contract. “To me personally, I think it’s worth looking into.”

Supporters of the review include Commissioner Couy Griffin, the Republican cofounder of the support group Cowboys for Trump who is facing misdemeanor criminal charges stemming from the Jan. 6. insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Griffin appeared on an outdoor terrace of the Capitol and tried to lead the crowd in prayer and denies allegations that he knowingly entered barricaded areas of the Capitol grounds with the intent of disrupting government as Congress certified the 2020 Electoral College results.

Contacted Wednesday, Griffin said by text that state authorities are pushing back against an audit that “threatens the very foundation of the BIGGEST LIE of our lifetime. That is the presidency of Joe Biden.”

Toulouse Oliver called the review a “vigilante” audit. She raised concerns that contractors might have access to and compromise vote tabulation machines, which would compel state election regulators to decertify and dispose of the equipment.

Toulouse Oliver said that authorities are probing whether the contractor improperly obtained bulk voter records through a third part.