SANTA FE, New Mexico ( Associated Press) — Rural New Mexico County’s initial refusal to confirm its primary election results last week has sparked excitement across the country, a symbol of how even the most basic functions of democracy have become politicized pressure points in a whirlpool of lies flowing from the results of the 2020 presidential election.
When the Otero County Commission finally gave inone question remains: why New Mexico, a state that was not a political battlefield and where Joe Biden handily defeated Donald Trump two years ago?
The seeds of a short-lived election crisis that ended amid a showdown with the Secretary of State and an order from the New Mexico Supreme Court had been sown months earlier, when David Clements, a lawyer who rose to prominence in conservative circles, began spouting conspiracy theories and false allegations about the latest presidential elections. elections that came to dominate political discussions in the Republican-dominated district.
But Otero County isn’t the only one targeted by conspiracy theorists, and Clements isn’t the only one involved in this effort.
Across the country, former President Donald Trump’s supporters and allies are meeting with local officials to sow doubts about the 2020 election, press for access to voting equipment and push for changes that will upend the way elections are run in their districts. Efforts led to security breaches voting equipment, and in New Mexico, chaos over what has historically been a chore.
“You saw a whole bunch of people — some sincere, some maybe less sincere — who rushed to meet the demand for evidence of the fraud that Trump created,” said David Levine, a former election commissioner and now an employee of the Alliance for Ensuring Democracy.
There was no massive fraud in the 2020 presidential election, this could change the outcome.
Even before the November 3, 2020 election, Trump was telling his supporters that fraud is the only way to lose re-election, pointing out mostly – and without evidence — to the expansion of voting by mail during the pandemic.
In the months that followed, there was no evidence to support the claims. They were fired by dozens of judges, Trump’s attorney general at the time, as well as a coalition of federal and state officials on elections and cybersecurity who called the 2020 vote “the safest” in U.S. history.
That hasn’t stopped the spread of false claims driven by a group of Trump supporters who show up at many of the same events and interact with each other on a regular basis.
Clements, a former Assistant District Attorney for Southern New Mexico and a former business professor at New Mexico State University, has traveled the country speaking with local government councils, conservative conventions, and church groups. Last year, he was at a “cyber symposium” hosted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, a key Trump ally who sought to prove that voting machines were somehow manipulated in favor of Biden.
Clements’ popular social media feed Telegram often intertwines pronouncements of democracy with scriptures and prayers. This also includes video chats with like-minded people.
In one March video, Clements chats with Jim Marchand, a Nevada Trump supporter who claims the election has long been rigged. Marchand recently won the Republican primary for secretary of state, Nevada’s highest-ranking election. This year, he was a key organizer of a group of America First candidates who either deny the results of the 2020 presidential election or promote the idea that the U.S. elections are corrupt.
In the video, Clements and Marchand discuss a “County Commission strategy” that includes pressuring local officials to get rid of “fraudulent” machines so that all ballots are not only manually discarded, but manually counted. Election experts say that manually counting ballots is not only less accurate, but also extremely labor intensive, which can delay results by weeks, if not months. They also say this is not necessary as voting equipment is checked before and after elections to ensure ballots are read and counted correctly.
A day earlier, Nye County, Nevada officials voted to require the county clerk not use ballot tabs in the upcoming November election. Clerk is against the move and decided to retire after the primaries. Marchand was among those who urged the commissioners to take this step.
“It was the first domino that allowed us to return to fair and transparent elections here in the country,” Marchand told Clementsou. “And we’re going to do that with a lot of other counties right here in Nevada, and hopefully it will encourage others in other states to do the same.”
Clements was delighted with the developments and vowed to push counties to do the same in his home state of New Mexico, where he once sought the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate.
“Shouldn’t committee members be concerned about whether I trust the system or not?” Clements said Marchand. “I love how you just cut out all the noise.”
This week, Clements is scheduled to appear at an event in Louisiana with Douglas Frank, another Lindell employee who has traveled the country meeting with state and local officials. In May 2021, Frank met with staff at the Ohio Secretary of State’s office, offering to scrutinize their voting procedures, boasting that he had worked with county officials in 22 states.
“Either you come to our team and together we can audit and show that there was no abuse, or you can turn against us,” Frank told agency staff, according to the audio recording. The office did not accept the offer.
For months now, Clements has been pushing Republican-leaning New Mexico counties to conduct partisan reviews of the 2020 election, similar to the widely maligned Arizona effort coordinated by Republicans in one of the state legislature’s houses. In Otero County, where Trump won by a wide margin, Clements and his wife, Erin, are conducting an unofficial and free review of the county’s 2020 voting procedures.
The result was a series of hours-long presentations by the county commission on unproven vulnerabilities in counting machines and patterns in voter registration activities. The Clementes, who listed Las Cruces as their residence, did not respond to interview requests.
Earlier this month, when Otero County commissioners were considering ending the use of tabulators for ballots, the couple again made the presentation. This prompted a rebuttal from Otero County Clerk Robin Holmes.
“They found a lot of things that they say are not true,” Holmes said.
However, committee members voted to end the use of tabulators on ballots before the November election.
Clements was among those who called on Otero County commissioners not to confirm the June 7 primary results, echoing voting equipment conspiracy theories that date back to the days immediately following the 2020 election. Holmes, the clerk, said the primaries went off without a hitch.
Clements also traveled to Torrance County, another Conservative stronghold in New Mexico, to urge the commissioners to defy authorities and refuse to confirm their primary results. During last Friday’s meeting, the crowd pelted the committee members with insults of “traitors” and “cowards” before they voted – unanimously – to confirm the results.
Election officials and pundits have expressed concern that local grading boards in other states, susceptible to voting machine conspiracy theories, could follow Otero County’s lead, leading to chaos in the election results.
Counties in Nevada have until Friday to sign the results of the June 14 state primary. Nye County commissioners who want to end ballot tabs are due to meet to consider certification on Friday. They have not said publicly what they are going to do.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press contributors Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; Julie Carr Smith in Columbus, Ohio; and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada contributed to this report.