The state Supreme Court on Tuesday tossed out a petition filed by Republican Party leaders and four county clerks that had challenged Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s protocols for handling absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 election.
Chief Justice Michael E. Vigil and Justices Barbara J. Vigil and Judith K. Nakamura signed the order denying the petition, but didn’t state a reason.
The challenge — filed Saturday by House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle and clerks in Lea, Catron, Chaves and Lincoln counties — said the secretary of state’s guidance to county clerks on rules regarding verification of personal information on absentee ballots was ambiguous and contradictory and was not being applied uniformly.
But state Attorney General Hector Balderas wrote in his response to the petition the claims were without merit because Toulouse Oliver’s protocols were within her authority and based on correct interpretations of election code, arguing the plaintiffs had filed the petition simply because they didn’t agree with her.
The state Republican Party said in a news release Monday that GOP “poll challengers” had been denied access to observe election workers processing absentee ballots and were being kept from viewing certain information they would need to mount challenges to absentee ballots.
Balderas said the petitioners were mistaken about the level of access to which they were entitled.
“The Election Code is clear and unequivocal about where, when and how challengers may participate in the election process. … Nothing in the Election Code suggests that challengers may be present during the county clerk’s curing process,” he wrote. “Nor does the Election Code permit challengers to view and challenge the accuracy of voters’ [Social Security numbers]; to the contrary, it expressly forbids the disclosure of this private information.”
The Republicans said in a statement the court’s refusal to hear the case was politically motivated.
“This decision — with no explanation by the Court — is not only a slap in the face to the minority party but suggests that the Court has turned a blind eye to justice and the integrity of the voting process,” GOP spokesman Mike Curtis wrote in an email. ”For the sake of New Mexico voters, it’s flabbergasting that Justices wouldn’t want to examine ballot-processing infractions with so much at stake on November 3.”
GOP Chairman Steve Pearce went further, calling it “very disappointing and, in fact, dangerous that the Supreme Court would not address an issue as serious as election integrity. “It appears that politics continues to play a role in our courts. It’s sad that the Justices will not take up a lawsuit that’s so critically important to ensure everyone’s ballot is accurately identified and verified. This is not about Democrats or Republicans but about the integrity of our voting process.”
Toulouse Oliver’s office applauded the ruling.
“The Supreme Court today reaffirmed the legally sound processes and procedures being followed by the state’s election administrators when processing absentee ballots,” Secretary of State spokesman Alex Curtas wrote in an email.
“These laws are in place to protect the identifying information of voters while also ensuring the integrity of the election,” Curtas added. “Voters in New Mexico should have confidence that their vote will count no matter if they are voting in person or by mail ballot and they should not be deterred by partisan legal maneuvering. Partisan lawsuits questioning the integrity of our elections mere days before November 3rd only serve to confuse voters and undermine voter confidence. We’re thankful the New Mexico Supreme Court quickly denied this petition today so the state’s election administrators can get back to focusing on the vital work of running the 2020 General Election.”