SANTA FE, New Mexico (AP) — The initial refusal of a rural New Mexico province to certify its primary election results last week sparked ripples across the country, a symbol of how even the most basic functions of democracy have become politicized pressure points amid the whirlwind of lies emanating from the 2020 presidential outcome.
After the Otero County Commission finally relented, one question remained: Why New Mexico, a state that has not been a political battleground and where Joe Biden handily defeated Donald Trump two years ago?
The seeds of the short-lived election crisis, which ended in a showdown with the Secretary of State and an order from the New Mexico Supreme Court, had been planted months earlier when David Clements, a lawyer who has gained notoriety in conservative circles, and others began with conspiracy theories and false claims about the last presidential election that came to dominate political discussion in the heavily Republican county.
But it’s not just Otero County where the local election administration is in the crosshairs of conspiracy theorists, and it’s not just Clements involved in the effort.
Across the country, supporters and allies of former President Donald Trump have met with local officials — casting doubt on the 2020 election, seeking access to voting equipment and pushing for changes that would rock the election administration in their provinces. The effort has led to breaches of voting equipment security and, in New Mexico, chaos around what was traditionally a routine task.
“You’ve seen a whole host of people — some sincere, some maybe less sincere — rushing to meet demand to provide evidence of the fraud Trump has created,” said David Levine, a former election official who is now a colleague. is with the Alliance for Safeguarding Democracy.
There was no widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election that could have changed the outcome.
Even before the November 3, 2020 election, Trump told his supporters that the only way to lose reelection was fraud, pointing mainly — and without evidence — to the expansion of mail votes during the pandemic.
In the months since, there is no evidence to support the claims. They have been fired by dozens of judges, at the time by Trump’s attorney general, and by a coalition of federal and state election and cybersecurity officials who called the 2020 vote the “safest” in US 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 regularly.
Clements, a former assistant district attorney in southern New Mexico and former business professor at New Mexico State University, has traveled the country speaking to local governments, conservative conventions and church groups. He was at the “cyber symposium” last year held by Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow, a key Trump ally who has sought to prove that voting machines were somehow manipulated to favor Biden.
Clements’ popular social media feed on Telegram regularly weaves together statements about democracy with scripture and prayer. It also includes video chats with like-minded people.
In a March video, Clements chatted with Jim Marchant, a Nevada Trump loyalist who claims elections have long been rigged. Marchant recently won the Republican primary for Secretary of State, Nevada’s highest electoral position. He was a key organizer this year of a group of “America First” candidates who are either denying the results of the 2020 presidential election or promoting the idea that US elections are corrupt.
In the video, Clements and Marchant discuss a “county commission strategy” that will pressure local officials to remove the “cheat” machines so that all ballots are not only cast by hand, but also counted by hand. Election experts say that counting the ballots manually is not only less accurate, but also extremely labor-intensive, potentially delaying results for weeks, if not months. They also say it is not necessary because voting equipment is tested before and after the elections to ensure that ballots are read and counted correctly.
The day before, county officials in Nye County, Nevada, had voted to request the city clerk not to use ballots in the upcoming November election. The clerk is against the move and has decided to retire after the primary. Marchant was among those who urged commissioners to take the step.
“It was the first domino that fell to enable us to return to fair and transparent elections here in the country,” Marchant told Clements. “And we’re going to do it with a lot more counties here in Nevada, and hopefully this will encourage others in other states to do the same.”
Clements was enthusiastic about the development, promising to push counties to do the same in his home state of New Mexico, where he once sought the Republican nomination for the United States Senate.
“Shouldn’t the commissioners care if I trust the system or not?” Clements told Marchant. “I love how you just cut through all the noise.”
This week, Clements is scheduled to appear at an event in Louisiana with Douglas Frank, another Lindell employee who has traveled around the country meeting with state and local officials. In May 2021, Frank met with members of the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office and offered to review their voting procedures, boasting that he has worked with provincial officials in 22 states.
“You join our team and we can check it together and prove that no crime has been committed, or you can oppose us,” Frank said according to an audio recording. The office did not accept the offer.
For months, Clements has been pushing Republican counties in New Mexico to launch partisan assessments of the 2020 election, similar to the much-maligned Arizona effort coordinated by Republicans in a chamber of the state legislature. In Otero County, which Trump won by a wide margin, Clements and his wife Erin conducted an informal and unpaid review of the county’s 2020 election processes.
The result was a series of hour-long presentations to the provincial commission on unproven vulnerabilities in vote-counting machines and patterns in voter registration activity. The Clements, who list Las Cruces as their hometown, did not respond to requests for an interview.
Earlier this month, as Otero County commissioners considered stopping balloting, the couple held another presentation. It led to a rebuttal from Otero County Clerk Robyn Holmes.
“There’s a lot of things that they’ve found, that they’re saying, that aren’t true,” Holmes said.
Nevertheless, the commissioners — led by Couy Griffin, co-founder of “Cowboys for Trump,” who was convicted of trespassing on the trespassing of the Capitol during the January 6 uprising — voted to stop using the polling stations. before the November elections.
Clements was among those who urged Otero County commissioners against certification of the June 7 primary results, reiterating conspiracy theories about voting equipment dating back to the days immediately after the 2020 election. Holmes, the clerk, said the primaries went smoothly. expired.
Clements also went to Torrance County, another conservative stronghold in New Mexico, to urge commissioners to defy authorities and refuse to certify their primary results. At Friday’s meeting, the mob threw insults of “traitors” and “cowards” at commissioners before voting — unanimously — to certify the results.
Election officials and pundits have expressed concern that local certification committees in other states that are receptive to voting machine conspiracy theories could be inspired to follow Otero County’s lead, confusing election results.
Nevada counties have until Friday to approve the results of the June 14 primary in the state. Nye County commissioners, who want to stop using ballots, are meeting Friday to consider certification. They have not said publicly what they intend to do.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas; Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio; and Scott Sonner in Reno, Nevada, contributed to this report.