By CHRISTINA A. CASSIDY and MORGAN LEE, Related Press
SANTA FE, New Mexico (AP) — A rural New Mexico county’s preliminary refusal to certify its major election outcomes despatched ripples throughout the nation final week, an emblem of how even essentially the most elemental capabilities of democracy have change into politicized strain factors amid the swirl of lies stemming from the 2020 presidential end result.
After the Otero County Fee lastly relented, one query continued: Why New Mexico, a state that has not been a political battleground and the place Joe Biden beat Donald Trump handily two years in the past?
The seeds of the short-lived election disaster, which ended amid a showdown with the secretary of state and an order from the New Mexico Supreme Courtroom, had been planted months earlier than, when David Clements, a lawyer who has gained prominence in conservative circles, and others started elevating conspiracy theories and false claims in regards to the final presidential election that got here to dominate political dialogue within the closely Republican county.
But it surely’s not simply Otero County the place native election administration is within the crosshairs of conspiracy theorists, and it’s not simply Clements concerned within the effort.
Throughout the nation, supporters and allies of former President Donald Trump have been assembly with native officers — sowing doubts in regards to the 2020 election, in search of entry to voting tools and urgent for modifications that will upend election administration of their counties. The trouble has led to safety breaches of voting tools and, in New Mexico, chaos surrounding what has traditionally been a routine activity.
“You have got seen a complete bunch of individuals — some honest, some maybe much less honest — who’ve rushed to fill the demand to offer proof of the fraud that Trump created,” stated David Levine, a former election official who’s now a fellow with the Alliance for Securing Democracy.
There was no widespread fraud within the 2020 presidential election that would have modified the result.
Even earlier than the Nov. 3, 2020, election, Trump was telling his supporters that fraud was the one means he might lose re-election, pointing largely — and with out proof — to the enlargement of mail-in voting throughout the pandemic.
Within the months since, there was no proof to assist the claims. They’ve been dismissed by dozens of judges, by Trump’s legal professional common on the time, and by a coalition of federal and state election and cybersecurity officers who known as the 2020 vote the “most safe” in U.S. historical past.
That hasn’t stopped the false claims from proliferating, pushed by a bunch of Trump supporters who seem at lots of the identical occasions and interact with one another repeatedly.
Clements, a former assistant district legal professional in southern New Mexico and former enterprise professor at New Mexico State College, has traveled the nation talking with native authorities boards, at conservative conventions and to church teams. He was on the “cybersymposium” final 12 months held by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a key Trump ally who has sought to show voting machines had been someway manipulated to favor Biden.
Clements’ in style social media feed on Telegram steadily weaves pronouncements about democracy with scripture and prayer. It additionally contains video chats with the like-minded.
In a single video from March, Clements chatted with Jim Marchant, a Trump loyalist from Nevada who claims elections have lengthy been rigged. Marchant lately received the Republican major for secretary of state, Nevada’s prime elections place. He has been a key organizer of a bunch of “America First” candidates this 12 months who both deny the result of the 2020 presidential election or promote the concept that elections within the U.S. are corrupt.
Within the video, Clements and Marchant talk about a “county fee technique” that includes pressuring native officers to eliminate the “cheat” machines so that every one ballots are usually not solely solid by hand but additionally counted by hand. Election specialists say hand-counting of ballots isn’t solely much less correct however extraordinarily labor-intensive, probably delaying outcomes by weeks if not months. Additionally they say it is pointless as a result of voting tools is examined earlier than and after elections to make sure ballots are learn and tallied accurately.
A day earlier, county officers in Nye County, Nevada, had voted to request that the county clerk not use poll tabulators within the upcoming November election. The clerk is against the transfer and has determined to retire after the first. Marchant was amongst these urging commissioners to make the transfer.
“It was the primary domino to fall to permit us to get again to truthful and clear elections right here within the nation,” Marchant instructed Clements. “And we’re going to do it with many extra counties proper right here in Nevada, and hopefully this can encourage others in different states to do the identical factor.”
Clements was excited in regards to the improvement and promised to push counties to do the identical in his residence state of New Mexico, the place he as soon as sought the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate.
“Shouldn’t the commissioners care about whether or not I belief the system or not?” Clements instructed Marchant. “I really like the way you simply reduce by all of the noise.”
This week, Clements is scheduled to look at an occasion in Louisiana with Douglas Frank, one other Lindell affiliate who has been touring the nation assembly with state and native officers. In Could 2021, Frank met with members of the Ohio Secretary of State’s Workplace providing to scrutinize their voting procedures, boasting he’s been working with county officers in 22 states.
“You both come onto our group and we are able to audit it collectively and present that there was no malfeasance, or you’ll be able to oppose us,” Frank instructed company employees, in keeping with an audio recording. The workplace didn’t settle for the supply.
For months now, Clements has been pushing Republican-leaning counties in New Mexico to launch partisan critiques of the 2020 election, just like the much-maligned effort in Arizona coordinated by Republicans in a single chamber of the state’s legislature. In Otero County, which Trump received by a large margin, Clements and his spouse, Erin, have been conducting a casual and unpaid overview of the county’s 2020 election procedures.
The end result has been a collection of hourslong shows to the county fee about unproven vulnerabilities in vote-tallying machines and patterns in voter registration exercise. The Clements, who checklist Las Cruces as their residence, didn’t reply to requests for an interview.
Earlier this month, when Otero County commissioners had been contemplating whether or not to discontinue the usage of poll tabulators, the couple once more made a presentation. It prompted a rebuttal from Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes.
“There’s plenty of issues they’ve discovered, that they’re saying, that aren’t true,” Holmes stated.
Nonetheless, the commissioners — led by Couy Griffin, co-founder of “Cowboys for Trump,” who was convicted of getting into restricted U.S. Capitol grounds throughout the Jan. 6 riot — voted to cease utilizing the poll tabulators earlier than the November election.
Clements was amongst these urging Otero County commissioners in opposition to certification of the June 7 major outcomes, repeating conspiracy theories about voting tools that hint again to the times instantly following the 2020 election. Holmes, the clerk, stated the first was carried out with out issues.
Clements additionally went to Torrance County, one other conservative stronghold in New Mexico, to induce commissioners to defy authorities and refuse to certify their major outcomes. Through the assembly final Friday, the group hurled insults of “traitors” and “cowards” at commissioners earlier than they voted — unanimously — to certify the outcomes.
Election officers and specialists have expressed concern that native certification boards in different states which can be receptive to conspiracy theories surrounding voting machines could be impressed to comply with Otero County’s instance, wreaking havoc with election outcomes.
Counties in Nevada have till Friday to log off on the outcomes of the state’s June 14 major. Nye County commissioners, who need to cease utilizing poll tabulators, are scheduled to fulfill to think about certification on Friday. They haven’t stated publicly what they plan to do.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Related Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.
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