Herrell seeks to impound ballots in New Mexico congressional race

November 14, 2018

Republican congressional candidate Yvette Herrell is asking a judge to impound more than 8,000 absentee ballots from Doña Ana County, a signal she is digging in for a legal fight after the last tally of votes widened the lead of her Democratic opponent, Xochitl Torres Small.

Herrell’s campaign filed a petition late Tuesday afternoon, just a few days after she appeared on Fox News and suggested there had been numerous problems with the race.

But the petition Herrell’s attorneys filed in state District Court in Las Cruces does not outline any particular irregularities or allegations of wrongdoing.

Herrell’s campaign has not responded to repeated requests from various news media outlets to elaborate on its allegations. Lawyers for Herrell wrote only that they were filing the petition to “investigate reports of chain-of-custody issues and other improprieties.”

The filing says Herrell had been declared the winner by roughly 2,000 votes on election night, referring not to any election officials but to a local newspaper article that said the state legislator from Alamogordo was “projected” to win the hard-fought and expensive race for New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District.

Maintaining a lead on election night, Herrell gave a victory speech as election authorities tallied votes across the district, which spans Southern New Mexico and has been won by Republicans in every election since 2010.

But late in the night, the Secretary of State’s Office announced Doña Ana County — an area virtually assured to favor the Democrat — was still counting absentee ballots.

The county clerk had received an outsized number of absentee ballots — more than 8,000. By comparison, the county tallied only 3,456 absentee ballots in 2016.

In turn, the clerk said officials had been overwhelmed and broke for the night to resume counting Nov. 7.

The final tally of absentee ballots swung the election in favor of Torres Small.

By the time the county finished adding up provisional ballots Monday, Torres Small had a lead of 3,539 votes, or 1.8 percentage points. Doña Ana County officials certified the tallies Tuesday, and the state canvassing board will meet later this month to make the results official, though Torres Small’s margin is too big at this point to trigger an automatic recount.

The petition says Herrell was stripped of her title as winner “upon the late counting of a historically unprecedented number of absentee ballots that went overwhelmingly and disproportionately for her opponent.”

If a judge orders the absentee ballots impounded, state police would task custody of the documents and associated records, such as tally sheets and registration certificates.

The petition specifically asks that Herrell’s campaign be allowed to inspect and copy all impounded records. She could later file a lawsuit challenging the results once the election is finalized.

As the Secretary of State’s Office has defended the integrity of the election, Democrats have dismissed Herrell’s allegations and accused her of seeking to undermine trust in the electoral process as President Donald Trump questions election outcomes in other states.

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