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Democrat expected to take US House seat despite challenge

November 17, 2018
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Rep.-elect Xochitl Torres Small, D-N.M., right, walks to a session during member-elect briefings and orientation on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Democrat Xochitl Torres Small is expected to take her U.S. House seat in southern New Mexico despite a pending court challenge to inspect certain ballots, the New Mexico secretary of state’s office said Friday.

New Mexico Secretary of State spokesman Alex Curtas said the office is scheduled to certify results by Nov. 27 that will show, according to unofficial results, Torres Small defeating Republican Yvette Herrell.

“That is not expected to change,” Curtas said. However, he said the office still has to officially certify the results.

Those comments come after State District Judge Manuel Arrieta ruled Friday that the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office can tally results amid Herrell’s request to impound absentee ballots in a key county.

The Associated Press called the race for Torres Small after absentee ballots tallied in Dona Ana County put her over the top.

Arrieta said while the tally is being completed, Herrell’s lawyers and the Dona Ana County Clerk’s office come up with agreement on how those ballots can be inspected and come back to him for a ruling.

Herrell’s lawyers have cited “chain-of-custody issues and other improprieties” but haven’t provided any details of allegations of irregularities. During a hearing Friday, Herrell’s attorneys signaled they wanted to check signatures and voter registrations.

In addition, the court documents claim Herrell was declared the winner of New Mexico’s open 2nd congressional district by some New Mexico media outlets on election night.

Some media outlets reported that Herrell was projected to win the race but rescinded that projection after Torres Small began to close the gap as the outstanding absentee ballots were counted in Dona Ana County — a traditional Democratic stronghold.

The AP did not call the race until those ballots were finished being counted and tabulated nearly 24 hours after polls closed showing Torres Small as the winner.

Unofficial election results from the secretary of state show Torres Small as the top vote-getter with 50.9 percent of the vote — just short of two percentage points more than Herrell. About 3,500 votes separate the two candidates.

Herrell had declared victory on election night with early returns showing her in the lead despite the number of outstanding ballots in Dona Ana County.

Herrell’s campaign has not returned the AP’s repeated voicemails, text messages and emails.

The Dona Ana County Canvassing Board voted unanimously to certify the election results Tuesday following the last counting of provisional ballots.

The Secretary of State’s Office has said it has not received any complaints about irregularities and that voters in the southern New Mexico county can be confident that their votes were counted in accordance with the law.

If Herrell’s campaign wants certain ballots it inspects tossed, the campaign would have to go to state district court to dispute the results of the election, Curtas said.

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