DOÑA ANA COUNTY, New Mexico -- Clashes have occurred in recent days between Republican poll challengers and election officials in Doña Ana County, which is at the center of a congressional swing district race.
State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said another GOP challenger was ejected Saturday from a Dona Ana County vote counting facility as the person tried to get close enough to the ballot tallying machine to take a photograph of numbers on the machine. Four challengers were ejected on Friday.
The chief deputy clerk of Doña Ana County told ABC-7 that Republican poll challengers have been ejected for what she called a "lack of compliance" with election rules.
Challengers are appointed by political parties in New Mexico to be present as county election boards verify and tally ballots and can dispute the veracity of ballots for a variety of reasons.
The state's director of elections sought assurances from the Republican Party that its poll challengers are not being told to disobey election board members, after the four challengers were ejected Friday in an altercation with Dona Ana County's absentee ballot counting board. Agency spokesman Alex Curtas said Saturday that the concerns had not been addressed yet by the party.
"These poll challengers need to stay within their lane and follow the rules and the laws," Curtas told ABC-7. "That will clear all this up."
A letter from state Elections Director Mandy Vigil described reports from Dona Ana County officials that a Republican election challenger grabbed an election board member, and that vote counting was interrupted.
"Voters deserve a process that's free of intimidation and that's fair and accessible," said Chief Deputy Doña Ana County Clerk Lindsey Bachman. She told ABC-7 that the ejected GOP poll challengers were replaced with new members of their party.
Pearce said surveillance video was submitted to state elections regulators and shows that the altercation was not physical, and that the party is not instructing challengers to disregard election officials. The video was not immediately available.
"We will accept the outcomes of the election, but when you have circumstances where the law is not followed and the disadvantage is to the minority party, obviously we're going to make a stir," he told ABC-7.
Pearce also said the GOP has instructed its challengers in Dona Ana County to take photographs of serial numbers and daily vote tallies on the machines to ensure an accurate count.
“How else can we make sure nothing happens in the middle of the night?” he asked.
Dona Ana County represents a crucial voting bloc in a swing-district congressional race between Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small and Republican former state legislator Yvette Herrell. Torres Small won by fewer than 4,000 votes in 2018.
New Mexico's Republican Party sued state election authorities unsuccessfully in the final days of early voting, saying its election challengers were unfairly denied access to the initial verification process for absentee ballots where signatures and partial social security numbers are reviewed.
The secretary of state's office said some restrictions on oversight are necessary to protect personal identification information, and the state Supreme Court dismissed the suit.
"No one is doing anything nefarious to unduly try to influence the outcome of the election," said Curtas.
But Pearce maintains, "We believe that the law is being violated." And he added that "the contentiousness is not coming from the Republican Party, it's coming from (Doña Ana County Clerk) Amanda (López) Askin and her employees."
On Saturday, ABC-7 also contacted López Askin, who has recused herself from the majority of election duties while running for re-election. She wrote by text on Sunday that she supports the county clerk's office and is looking forward to Tuesday.
Her Republican challenger for the clerk's post is vowing that she "will return confidence in the election process by welcoming challengers to be part of the process."
"Instead of interfering with their job, (election) workers should welcome [poll challengers] and assist them in doing their job properly," candidate Cheryl De Young told ABC-7.