Behind the raucous public frustration and anger at election security that unfolded in New Mexico this week was a hint of something deeper: a widening rift between the state’s democratic power structure and conservative rural residents who feel their way of life is being attacked.
In Otero County, where the crisis over the certification of the June 7 primaries began, County Commissioner Vickie Marquardt took a defiant tone when she relented under pressure from the Democratic Attorney General, the Democratic Secretary of State and a Democratic-dominated Supreme Court. appointees. †
One of the main explanations she gave for the reversal had nothing to do with questions about the safety of voting machines — the reason the all-Republican, three-member commission had originally refused to certify her election.
“If we are removed from office, no one here will fight for the farmers, and that’s where our fight should be right now,” said Marquardt, the committee chair in a county where former President Donald Trump has nearly 62% of the population. vote in 2020.
Otero County is similar to the handful of other counties in New Mexico where residents have questioned the veracity of election results, giving voice to baseless conspiracy theories about voting systems that have spread across the country since former President Donald Trump lost reelection in 2020.
In the state’s vast, rural areas, frustration over voting and political representation has been mounting for years. Residents felt marginalized and overwhelmed by government decisions that imposed livelihood restrictions – limiting access to water for livestock, reducing the amount of forest land available for grazing, or halting timber activities and energy developments due to concerns about endangered species.
Tensions have mounted as New Mexico Democrats consolidate control of all state offices and the Supreme Court. Democrats have dominated the legislature for generations.
Even when they voted to certify their elections, sometimes begrudgingly, commissioners from several New Mexico counties said they were required by law to take that step — thanks to legislation passed by Democrats. They urged their residents to fight in the state house.
Some complained about what they believed to be a state encroachment on local government powers. Marquardt, of Otero County, complained about her committee’s meager “rubber stamping” authority under laws enacted by Democrats and an election certificate “pushed through” by larger forces.
Otero County is one of more than a dozen self-proclaimed 2nd-Amendment “sanctuary” counties in rural New Mexico to pass insurgent resolutions against the state’s recent gun control laws. The county has also opposed President Joe Biden’s goals of preserving more private land and waterways for natural habitats, arguing it will fence off already limited private land.
Amid alienation, skepticism about the security of elections has fled.
On Friday, Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin was the only dissenting vote in the election certification, although he acknowledged he had no evidence of difficulty or factual basis to question the results of the election. His vote came after the county election clerk said the primaries went off without a hitch and the results were confirmed afterward.
The former rodeo rider and co-founder of Cowboys for Trump called the meeting because he was in Washington, D.C., where he was convicted hours before he was trespassed on the trespassing of the United States Capitol during the January 6, 2021 uprising .
Applause rang out as Griffin declared, “I think we should hold out.”
Developments in New Mexico can be traced back to far-right conspiracy theories about voting machines that have spread across the country over the past two years. Several Trump allies have claimed that the Dominion’s voting systems had been manipulated in some way as part of an elaborate election-stealing plan, which Biden won.
There is no evidence of widespread fraud that would have changed the results of the 2020 presidential election, and testimony before the congressional committee investigating the insurgency has made it clear that many in Trump’s inner circle told him the same thing he had plans to kill. to maintain power.
The election battle that erupted last week worries Dian Burwell, a registered independent and coffee shop manager in the Otero County capital of Alamogordo.
“We want people to vote and when they see all this they’ll just say, ‘Why bother?'” Burwell said.
Despite New Mexico counties’ final votes to confirm their primary results, election officials and pundits fear the mini-rebellion is just the beginning of nationwide efforts to wreak havoc around vote and vote counting, advancing to the 2024 presidential election. The New Mexico Secretary of State’s office said it was inundated with appeals from officials across the country who were concerned that certification controversies will become a new front in the attacks on Democratic norms.
In another New Mexico county where residents angrily denounced the certification, commissioners were labeled “cowards and traitors” by a hostile mob before voting. Torrance County Commissioner LeRoy Candelaria, a Republican and Vietnam veteran, voted to certify the results without apology, despite the personal insults.
The half-retired rancher and road maintenance foreman said he took the time outside of committee meetings to explain his position that vote counting machines in New Mexico are well tested and audited.
“Our municipal secretary has done an excellent job. I don’t think there has been a vote that somehow went wrong,” Candelaria said in a telephone interview later. “My personal opinion is that there are people who are still angry about the last presidential election. … Let’s worry about the next election and not take things personally.”
Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Anita Snow and Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.