Yesterday the County Manager gave her report on the informal audit she led of the 2022 Primary Election. The results showed the tabulator machines counted 2559 votes while only 2299 votes were counted through a hand tally of paper ballots. The difference between the machines and actual paper ballots was an astounding 260 votes! Either hundreds of ballots went missing or someone altered the election returns.
Hundreds of Ballots
To recap what we know, voters placed their ballots into tabulators which printed “tapes” after the polls closed. These tapes are public records belonging to Torrance County. The tabulator tapes were provided to the County Clerk who aggregated the totals from those tapes into the “canvass report”. The canvass report is also a public record.
The County Clerk presented the canvass report to the Board of Commission which acted in their role at the time as Board of Canvass. The Board compared the canvass report to the tabulator tapes to ensure they both matched prior to approving the canvass.
The audit conducted by the County Manager sought to add up, or “tally”, all votes cast by ballot, and then compare those totals to the canvass report. Some parties and candidates saw enormous differences between the number of votes tallied from the ballots and the totals presented in the canvass report. Some candidates and parties saw less of a difference. Stranger still, some vote tallies were almost identical to the canvass report.
The County Manager explained in her presentation to the Commission that the differences between hand tallies and canvass report totals did not affect the final outcome of any local races. However, the matter of altered election returns (or missing ballots) remains unresolved. Without a proper investigation, the County Manager’s extensive audit alone will not apprehend whomever is responsible.
Tampering with Public Records
Limited explanations exist for the differences uncovered by the County Manager’s audit, and any one of them alone is cause for concern. Following are possible explanations which should be explored:
- Hundreds of voter ballots, public records belonging to Torrance County, were taken or destroyed.
- The tabulators produced tapes, also County records, containing fabricated results contrary to the votes on the ballots they were intended to count.
- The tabulator tapes were altered after-the-fact.
If the tabulator tapes were altered or their totals otherwise fabricated, such actions amount to “tampering with public records” (NM Stat § 30-26-1). Some residents of Torrance County are voicing concern the same exact machines already in use this election were also used during the 2022 Primaries where they allege tampering with public records occurred. They question why the machines have not been impounded and forensically searched. They ask why the removable storage devices used by the tabulators were all turned over to the Sheriff’s Office as evidence, but the tabulator machines themselves have not been turned over as well.
Despite the County Manager’s findings, the County Attorney advised the Commission not enough evidence was found to take immediate action. Some residents speculate the County Commission fears reprisals from State officials. This speculation is driven by the public’s memory of the Commission buckling in the presence of the now embattled State Senator, Daniel Ivey-Soto. Then Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee, Daniel Ivey-Soto, made a curious visit to speak to the Commission of their legal obligation to approve the election canvass at the time. Who will visit next from the State if the Commissioners fail to tow the establishment line?
Some residents are questioning the County’s motives for turning over some, but not all evidence. For the next couple weeks, the public will be expected to continue using the tabulator machines implicated in possible record tampering. Given the provision in statute for hand tallies to be conducted in lieu of using voting machines (here, here, and here), where circumstances demand, why were the machines not impounded to prevent the contamination of forensic evidence? What assurances can be given to the public that the current election will be any less inaccurate?
Were this a homicide case without a known perpetrator, would the same logic apply? Let’s take for example a body found with stab wounds in a hotel room by a new guest checking into the room. Would the guest be expected to stay in the same room as an active crime scene? Even if a portion of the readily apparent evidence was collected, wouldn’t we also expect the forensic evidence to be collected, no matter the delay and inconvenience to the new guest?
Imagine if while removing the body police acknowledged to the guest that the perpetrator might have a key to the room since there was no forced entry. “This is serious,” police might say. “We don’t want to interrupt your stay, though. Maybe we can just return to gather evidence and consider looking for the perpetrator after your stay.” Even if the guest agreed to sleep in the room where the body was just found, what of the integrity of any uncollected evidence? Wouldn’t the guest risk contaminating it?
Of course, we are not talking about a murder, but we are still talking about a possible felony if tampering with public records occurred. Public safety is considered during an open homicide investigation. What consideration is given to protect public records? If the penalty for tampering with public records is a felony, shouldn’t it be treated as such?
Torrance 2022 Primary Election Audit_
Primary Election Audit Results 2022 - Spreadsheet
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