Unprecedented number of absentee ballots in school board election draws attention of Sec. of State

“Watch the absentees,” we sometimes hear in the news– James O’Keefe the controversial video journalist made a video on it. And others mention it as well– friends in Colorado and Washington state (states with absentee-only voting) have raised concerns, but generally not much can be proven and the discussions are left to radical fringe forums.

Then a couple weeks ago I read the story of Daryl Ortega, the Questa, New Mexico guy who won a school board race due to an unbelievably high number of absentee ballots used in a race that normally would only receive a handful of absentees:

When Daryl Ortega won an election for Position 1 in the Questa school board election, the margin of victory was only seven votes. Ortega won with 233 votes to incumbent Jack Gallegos’ 226 and Deborah Madrid’s 95. Ortega received 167 absentee votes, Gallegos received four and Madrid, two.

Taos County Clerk Anna Martínez told The Taos News Tuesday (Feb. 10) it was brought to her attention that an unspecified number of ballots cast in the election were suspect. While Martínez said it is not within her purview to investigate those ballots, she will be sending the appropriate information to the District Attorney’s office this week so the office may proceed appropriately.

Sounds kinda suspicious, right? I mean, normal practices are not the ones to worry about… Years ago, while beginning my political adventures in Taos, and working under some awesome Republican leadership, I received a little training, but even more on-the-job experience in the form of “here’s a state election guide-book, go study” and it was my understanding that absentees were to be handled carefully.

While following orders of party leadership, I had a number of disagreements with a former Taos County clerk who tried all manner of intimidation techniques on election observers (which even led to
Intimidation coming from a former Sec. of State’s office). It was a tumultuous time, but I learned a lot, in just a couple of weeks, about the election process and heard a number of rumors– from stuff that was clearly made up, to comments that it was a standard practice of the then-county clerk to hand deliver absentee ballots to voters, thus enabling the incumbent to win the Democratic primary.

But back to the article by the Taos News….

All the while, discrepancies remain about the legality of accepting absentee ballots from someone who isn’t an immediate family member or caregiver to a voter.

In order for a person to vote absentee, they must fill out and return an application for an absentee ballot. The clerk’s office will then mail that ballot to a requested address. A voter then either mails the filled-in and signed ballot or returns it in person to the clerk’s office on or before the end of election day.

The statute regarding this rule states, “A voter, caregiver to that voter or member of that voter’s immediate family may deliver that voter’s absentee ballot to the county clerk in person or by mail, provided that the voter has subscribed the other envelope of the absentee ballot.”

Martínez told The Taos News one of the first things she learned while being trained as a county clerk was how to read and interpret a statute.

The word ‘may’ allows for an “unrelated third party” to deliver a ballot at the discretion of the county clerk on a case-by-case basis, she contends. “If the statute said ‘shall’ instead of ‘may’ then there would be no ifs, ands or buts about it,” she said.

However, Ken Ortiz, the chief of staff to the New Mexico Secretary of State, confirmed language on their website that states “An unrelated third party may not deliver another voter’s absentee ballot.”

Martínez told The Taos News on Feb. 4 that Ortega and “a helper” delivered a couple “handfuls” of ballots to the clerk’s office.

No chain of custody exists for the ballots, Martínez told The Taos News on Tuesday (Feb. 10). Furthermore, the clerk isn’t required to keep track of who delivers ballots to the office, Ortiz said in an email Tuesday.

Martínez added it would be next to impossible to prove whether or not someone is a family member or caregiver.

Martínez couldn’t comment at this time about the total number of absentee ballots Ortega and “his helper” actually brought into the office, though she told The Taos News on Feb. 4 that Ortega “really pushed” absentee ballots as his election.

Hmmm…so what is going on?! Did Ortega do something wrong? These incidents are disturbing, especially considering Ortega was previously ejected from the Questa school board a couple years back due to seemingly unethical practices (giving his company contract advantages) as reported by the Taos News.

Sources: Taos News

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