Heath Haussamen on New Mexico Politics
February 6, 2008
Uncounted Rio Arriba County ballots raise eyebrows
The New Mexico Democratic Party caucus may be tainted by three ballot boxes that spent the night in the home of the Rio Arriba County party chair or the homes of other local election officials instead of being reported to the state party.
Those ballots still haven’t been counted, but they have been retrieved by the state party.
Several sources told me the ballot boxes spent the night at the home of Rio Arriba County Democratic Party Chair Theresa Martinez, whose state-lawmaker husband, Sen. Richard Martinez, endorsed Hillary Clinton. But Richard Martinez told Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Kate Nash that the boxes actually spent the night in the homes of three polling-place managers. He gave Nash no explanation for why the results from those ballots weren’t reported to the state party last night and why they were instead kept overnight in officials’ homes.
“The site managers locked them and they kept them and they took them to my wife this morning,” Nash quoted Richard Martinez as saying.
State party officials and Theresa Martinez have not returned my calls seeking comment.
The three ballot boxes from Rio Arriba County and a fourth from Sandoval County account for the 2 percent of precincts that haven’t yet reported results from Tuesday’s caucus. With about 200 votes separating Clinton and Barack Obama, that’s huge. We’re talking about the ballots from half the polling places in Rio Arriba County.
I want to make sure this point is emphasized: Roughly half the votes from Rio Arriba County spent the night in the privacy of the home or homes of one or more election officials in boxes those officials may have had the ability to open. All the county party chair had to do last night to report the results was make a phone call. That never happened.
The ballot boxes were retrieved from Theresa Martinez by the state party this morning.
I understand there was a big snowstorm up there, and I realize people were up late and might have slept in this morning. It’s possible – perhaps even likely – that there is nothing fishy going on here.
But there are valid concerns. Rio Arriba County has a history of election scandal.
The Obama and Clinton campaigns should have lawyers there trying to figure out what’s happening and ready to act if necessary. My understanding is that Obama attorneys are already on their way. The state party needs to quickly resolve this and tell the public how it’s going to allay fears that the election process is tainted beyond repair.
If the ballots are disqualified, voters are disenfranchised. If they’re counted, the process may be tainted. This is an incredibly close race. You have to wonder if, at the end of it all, the losing candidate will petition the DNC to not seat some or all of New Mexico’s delegates, arguing that the process here was fatally tainted. I wrote earlier today about a number of other problems with Tuesday’s caucus. This only adds to the list.
A number of Democrats have told me they’re furious with the state party over these issues. I’m trying to get to the bottom of it. Check back later today for updates.
Update, 2:30 p.m.
Phil Sisneros, spokesman for the Attorney General’s Office, said an AG investigation is unlikely because this was a party-run election not subject to the state election code.