Sunday, June 19, 2022

Election flap illustrates rural-urban divide in New Mexico, and what can happen when misinformation takes root

Screenshot of part of front page of Otero County's daily newspaper
Under a court order and other pressure from state officials, a county governing board in New Mexico voted 2-1 Friday to certify primary election results after refusing to do so on Monday and hiring a discredited firm to audit the votes. The all-Republican Otero County Commission's moves had nationwide repercussions.

The swing vote was Vickie Marquardt, who "said County Clerk Robyn Holmes allayed the concerns about deceased voters," reports Adrian Hedden of the Alamogordo Daily News. The dissenter was Couy Griffin, a founder of Cowboys for Trump, who was found guilty last week and sentenced to 14 days in jail and fined $3,000 on the misdemeanor charge of illegally entering or remaining on restricted grounds: the U.S. Capitol, on Jan. 6, 2021.

Marquardt "said she was voting yes after threats from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office that commissioners could be jailed if they continued to refuse to certify the election. Marquardt said she’d rather vote for the certification, begrudgingly, than be removed from office, imprisoned and replaced by an appointee of [Democratic] Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s choosing," Hedden reports.

Otero County (Wikipedia)
The pressure also came from a Democratic state attorney general "and a state Supreme Court dominated by Democratic appointees," Morgan Lee of The Associated Press reports. "Behind the raw public frustration and anger over election security that has played out this week in New Mexico was a hint of something deeper: a growing divide between the state’s Democratic power structure and conservative rural residents who feel their way of life is under attack. . . . In the state’s vast, rural stretches, frustration over voting and political representation has been building for years. Residents have felt marginalized and overrun by government decisions that have placed limits on livelihoods — curtailing access to water for livestock, shrinking the amount of forest land available for grazing, or halting timber operations and energy developments due to endangered-species concerns. . . . Amid alienation, skepticism about the security of elections has taken flight."

AP Executive Editor Julie Pace cited the case as an example of why the news service recently created a democracy beat. "The challenge that a lot of news organizations are facing when it comes to covering democracy is that, yes, this is of course a national issue, a macro issue, but it's playing out all across the country in very local ways," Pace said on CNN's "Reliable Sources."

The episode also shows where "big lie" delusions can lead, Washington Post analyst Philip Bump writes. He notes that legislative testimony by the founder of Echo Mail, the firm the county hired for the audit, was "thoroughly debunked, stemming from a lack of understanding about how elections were run. . . . It’s worth reviewing the path by which the county commission reached this point: Donald Trump, eager to soften his likely and then actual election loss, elevated unfounded allegations about voter fraud. His supporters believed him. Various opportunists, sincere and otherwise, rushed to fill the demand for evidence of fraud that Trump created. Over time, this created a self-reinforcing narrative: since the claims of fraud defied any debunking, the purported threat of fraud remained intact. So a county that backed Trump handily — a county in which no fraud has been shown, a county that paid for a review of its votes that found no fraud — ends up rejecting its own election results. It does so out of both a concern that this unproven fraud continues undetected and out of obstinacy as authorities demand that the county officials adhere to reality."

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