- Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer who advised Trump as he sought to overturn the election results, recently touted plans for poll-challenger training in Albuquerque.
Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said Wednesday that she is increasingly concerned about the potential for disruptive poll challengers at voting locations in New Mexico this year amid the rise in misinformation about election integrity.
State law permits political parties to appoint challengers who work at polling locations and can raise a challenge if they believe a potential voter isn’t eligible to cast a ballot.
They’re intended to be an extra set of eyes who can check the work of poll officials.
But election workers throughout the country are preparing for a potential influx of poll challengers influenced by the falsehoods spread by Donald Trump about the 2020 election.
Cleta Mitchell, a Republican lawyer who advised Trump as he sought to overturn the election results, recently touted plans for poll-challenger training in Albuquerque.
In a question-and-answer session with reporters, Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat up for reelection this year, said she is more concerned about the potential for disruptive behavior – perhaps repeated, baseless challenges – this year than in past years. But she expressed confidence that county clerks and election workers are well-prepared.
Challengers are allowed inside polling places – if they’re appointed in writing by a political party – and may offer challenges if they believe a potential voter isn’t registered, has already voted or is not qualified to vote.
But they cannot dominate an election worker’s time, talk to or harass voters, or issue challenges with no basis, Toulouse Oliver said.
A presiding judge, she said, may have a challenger removed from the polling location if warranted.
County clerks throughout the state are aware of the potential for aggressive challengers, Toulouse Oliver said, and election workers have been trained on how to handle problems.
In addition to challengers, state law permits watchers and observers in polling locations, but they aren’t authorized to raise a challenge.
Mitchell, the Republican lawyer, said in a video interview with Steve Bannon – who served as a strategist in the Trump administration – that she and others are training poll challengers in New Mexico and across the country.
They will be trained to follow the law or rules in their state and the grounds for a challenge, she said. A summit was planned in Albuquerque.
“They’re happening all over the country,” Mitchell said. “We’re deploying people to be poll watchers, to watch everything that’s happening.”
The role of challengers and watchers triggered litigation in 2020, when the state Republican Party and others asked the Supreme Court to clarify what the challengers were permitted to view as absentee ballots were processed.
Federal prosecutors also announced Wednesday that they have appointed an assistant U.S. attorney, Jeremy Peña, to oversee election complaints in New Mexico.
“Every citizen must be able to vote without interference or discrimination and to have that vote counted in a fair and free election,” U.S. Attorney Alexander M.M. Uballez said in a written statement.