January 7, 2019
ALAMOGORDO - Republican Second Congressional District nominee Yvette Herrell has reviewed the absentee ballot returns in Doña Ana County, and examined the procedures used by the county clerk’s office for receiving absentee ballot applications and the processing and security of ballots.
In mid-November, while not disputing the outcome of the election, or alleging any misconduct on anyone’s part, Herrell cited widespread concerns raised by the media and individual voters about election integrity, from North Carolina to California, as part of the reason she and her campaign decided to take a closer look at the Doña Ana County elections process. There is still no representative for a North Carolina congressional district in which similar issues have been raised.
“On election night and in the days immediately following, we received numerous reports of irregularities, both from poll workers as well as individual voters,” said Herrell, “we were urged to take a closer look at the process and I ultimately decided to do just that for the sake of assuring voters that our elections do in fact provide for transparency and public review.”
Despite some media headlines and attacks by political activists, Herrell was careful never to claim that she had grounds to contest the election, or that she believed the outcome was even in doubt.
Instead, Herrell repeatedly emphasized the fact that voters had provided the campaign numerous individual reports outlining what voters saw as irregularities. Additionally, at the state canvassing board meeting on November 27, questions were raised about the new “electronic” absentee ballot applications which are currently designed to bypass review by the county clerks, with the SOS merely certifying the applications.
There was also the very unusual matter of some 2,977 absentee ballots mailed out without being returned, a non-return rate of about 25%, some four to five times the normal rate of unreturned ballots. A number of voters had complained about receiving absentee ballots in the mail or being on the list of absentee voters, despite never having applied for an absentee ballot.
“Taken together, the numbers of reported irregularities were such that I felt I owed it to voters, as well as to lawmakers, to undertake a thorough review,” said Herrell. “It is important that voters have faith in the integrity of elections, and there was a need to know how the election administration took place and to see if anything could be learned that might be useful in terms of amending or updating the Election Code.
“I did not believe that there were reasons to contest the election, but I did strongly feel that there were enough claims of irregularities to warrant a full review, and that we might learn things that could be of use to State House and Senate Committees as they continually try to update and improve our election laws.”
Initial Review Highlights:
The review team noted early on that the Doña Ana County Clerk’s office had entered 577 absentee ballots as “received” after 7 PM on Election Day, with most of those being on “November 7”, the day after the election. Under New Mexico law, absentee ballots must be received not later than 7 PM on election night, November 6. Ballots may be hand-delivered to polling places or the clerk’s office until that moment.
The review also found key differences in voter ID requirements between absentee voting and in-person voting. State law has very minimal voter identification provisions—there is no requirement for a physical or photo ID of any kind. Instead, New Mexicans voting in person on election day or during early voting are required to provide their name, voter registration address, and year of birth.
However, the review process revealed that for absentee voting even that very minimal “voter identification” procedure does not exist. An absentee ballot is “checked” merely to see if there is a signature. Ballots returned without the voter’s registration address or year of birth were accepted and counted. Ballots with incorrect registration addresses or incorrect years of birth for the voter were accepted and counted. As an example of what that difference means: If an in-person voter could not provide such information to a poll worker, he or she would be given a provisional ballot. But absentee votes without this information are counted.
(This is not to imply that the signature on the outer envelope of an absentee ballot is “verified”—as the Secretary of State pointed out on November 27, “We only check to see if there is a signature, not that the signature is the voter’s. There is no verification required in New Mexico law.”)
The newly-added “electronic” absentee ballot applications also raised questions about New Mexico’s voter verification process, in that county clerks are simply informed when their voters have applied for absentee ballots electronically and they are provided an electronic verification that the voter is who he or she claims to be. However, there is no actual procedure in place in New Mexico law to ensure that such information is correct.
Herrell says she will provide a comprehensive and public report of her findings in the coming days.
“As a former state legislator, I have participated in many debates on voter ID in New Mexico. I was surprised to find that absentee ballots have a “signature-only” ID requirement, which does not match up with the Election Code. Hopefully, the legislature will see where many improvements can be made in our Election Code—improvements that provide increased confidence among the voting public,” said Herrell.
“Election integrity processes are not partisan. As we have seen in the contested primaries of some of our Democratic colleagues, all parties -- and all New Mexicans -- stand to benefit from a clear and unambiguous elections process.”