Ex-Española councilor: Mismatched signatures indicate voter fraud

Cory Lewis. Clyde Mueller/New Mexican file photo

Correction appended

Cory Lewis, who lost his seat on the Española City Council by two votes in March, says in a lawsuit alleging voter fraud that signatures on nearly two dozen absentee ballots do not match the signatures on voter registration cards.

Lewis, in an amended complaint filed last week as part of his lawsuit against the city of Española and the election’s declared winner, Councilman Robert Seeds, asks that all absentee ballots from the race be disallowed.

Lewis claims Seeds’ supporters stole the election by fraudulently submitting absentee ballots. Seeds received 94 votes by absentee ballot, compared to 10 for Lewis. The overall vote total was 238 for Seeds and 236 for Lewis.

Española City Clerk Anna Squires has raised similar concerns about the honesty of the election, prompting an investigation by New Mexico State Police.

Though the investigation remains open, a judge allowed Lewis and his attorney to do their own sleuthing by reviewing the envelopes in which absentee ballots were submitted.

Voters must sign the envelopes and the voter registration card. The difference between some signatures was “day and night,” Lewis said Wednesday.

The complaint recently submitted by Lewis’ lawyer lists 23 voters they suspect did not sign the envelopes submitted in their name.

“Somebody other than the actual voter signed those,” Lewis said. “I think it’s safe to say one person did several of them.”

The lawyer representing Seeds did not respond to a message seeking comment. Seeds has asked state District Judge Sarah Singleton to throw out Lewis’ case, claiming his former election opponent is in collusion with city staff and acted in “bad faith and with unclean hands.”

Another envelope, the complaint claims, was submitted unsigned but still tallied. Lewis’ lawyer, Christopher L. Graeser, says the ballot should have been rejected.

Graeser and Lewis have only raised concerns about absentee ballots. They say there is no evidence that anyone engaged in “in-person voter fraud,” used improper identification or impersonated a different person at a polling place.

Rather than calling for a new election, Lewis is asking election officials to reject all ballots from a single precinct. The precinct only includes absentee ballots and ballots from early voting.

Discarding those ballots would tip the election in favor of Lewis.

The volume of absentee ballots cast in the District 4 race between Seeds and Lewis was enough to pique suspicions. A total of only 43 absentee ballots were submitted in the city’s other three other council races this year.

Squires, the city clerk, contacted the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office in mid-February — while the election was underway — asking for advice about potential voter fraud.

In a letter, Squires detailed two suspicious episodes.

The clerk wrote that Seeds’ wife, Laura Seeds, on one occasion visited an early voting site with man identified by the latter as Dyon Herrera and a woman, Daysi Lopez, who claimed to be delivering the absentee ballot applications of four siblings. But an election official noted one of the applications was not signed, the letter said. Squires said Laura Seeds asked Herrera to take the application outside, where Lopez’s sibling was supposedly waiting, and have him sign it. Herrera returned a few moments later with the signed application. But Squires said in her letter that election officials did not see the man inside the vehicle. Instead, she spotted only Laura, Seeds, Herrera and Lopez.

Squires also wrote that Seeds’ wife delivered absentee applications on another occasion while accompanied by Herrera. Herrera’s grandmother called him while at the voting site. He passed the phone to election officials and Herrera’s grandmother said his grandfather had accidentally ripped up their absentee ballots, the letter said.

The next day, Herrera returned with the torn ballots, which election officials taped. Then an election official reported watching Herrera go outside, where he reopened the envelopes. Herrera returned minutes later with signatures on the envelopes. Herrera claimed his grandparents signed the envelopes while seated in a vehicle outside the polling site, Squires wrote. She said election officials did not see elderly passengers in the vehicle, only young people.

The investigation is in its final stages, a state police spokeswoman said Wednesday. Ballots remain in a state police evidence locker.

The next hearing has yet to be scheduled in Lewis’ case. Legal wrangling characterized the race for District 4 from the start.

In January, Seeds’ wife filed a complaint in state District Court seeking to remove Lewis from the ballot, alleging he did not live in the district where he was running. A judge rejected that claim.

Contact Andrew Oxford at 505-986-3093 or aoxford@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated what the city clerk wrote in a letter to the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office. The city clerk wrote that a woman submitted four applications for absentee ballots and another woman asked a man accompanying them to take one of the applications outside for a signature from the applicant. She said that the man, not one of the women, returned moments later with the signed application, and an election official, not the clerk, later reported they did not see the applicant outside.