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FRI: Court Denies Request To Extend Navajo Ballot Counting, + More

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Court Rejects Bid To Extend Ballot Counting On Navajo Nation - Jacques Billeaud, Associated Press

An appeals court has refused to give an extra 10 days after Election Day to count ballots mailed by Navajo Nation members living on the Arizona portion of the tribe’s reservation.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals concluded yesterday that the Navajos who sued for the extension because of slow mail delivery on the reservation had no legal standing to sue and raised questions about the difficulty of using information on ballots to try to distinguish between Navajos living on tribal lands and other voters.

While the lawsuit alleged tribal members would be disenfranchised by the requirement that ballots be received by 7 p.m. on Election Day, the judges said the six Navajos who sought the extension didn’t demonstrate they would be harmed by the current deadline.

The lawsuit said the extension was needed because mail service on the reservation is much slower and less accessible than other parts of the states. It argued that the state should count the ballots in question if they are postmarked by Election Day and received by election officials up to 10 days later.

New Mexico Marks Another Daily Record For Virus CasesAssociated Press

New Mexico set a single-day record with 819 confirmed COVID-19 cases, health officials confirmed Friday.


New rules to limit gatherings to five people or fewer, reduce hotel capacities and impose a 10 p.m. closing time for bars and some restaurants took effect Friday after successive days of record-breaking daily infection rates. The previous record of 672 confirmed cases on Thursday already had eclipsed records set in recent days.


Even before the new numbers came out, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham shared her dismay on social media, tweeting “New Mexico is in uncharted waters. This is the greatest challenge New Mexico has ever faced.”


In addition to the new cases, the state also reported that six more people in New Mexico died of the virus.


The seven-day rolling average of New Mexico’s positive infection rate also has risen over the past two weeks to 5.4% on Oct. 15, according to an analysis by The Associated Press of data collected by Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

Comparing seven-day averages of newly confirmed cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.


New Mexico Retirement Board Moves Toward Divesting In Private Prisons – Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press

A panel that oversees a multibillion-dollar pension fund for New Mexico teachers and other educational retirees took a step Friday toward dropping investments in private prison companies.

The Educational Retirement Board voted 4-2 with one member abstaining to amend its investment policies to exclude private prisons from its portfolio. The vote came after more than a year of pressure from teachers' unions and immigration activists fueled a debate about socially responsible investments.

Some board members described the latest public comments as impassioned pleas to stop putting any money into funds that include private prison companies.

Those who voted against the motion to begin revamping the board's policies said activists should be lobbying the state Legislature and municipal officials who contract with private prison companies to effect more change.

It's uncertain how long it will take staff to prepare new policies. It would then be up to the board to consider the proposed changes at a subsequent meeting.

University Of New Mexico Football On Pause Due To COVID-19Associated Press

Eight football players at the University of New Mexico and one assistant coach tested positive for the coronavirus.

The Albuquerque Journal reported the positive cases announced Wednesday led state officials to step in and shut down all team activities.

University athletic director Eddie Nuñez said if the team is unable to practice for the next week, they will not be able to safely play their first scheduled game on Oct. 24 against Colorado State.

The university's football team was allowed to resume practice two weeks ago despite the state's public health order prohibiting it by agreeing with public health officials on a four-page document on testing and safety guidelines.

The Governor’s spokesperson, Nora Meyers Sackett, said Bernalillo County’s rising positivity rate no longer meets the criteria of the COVID-Safe Practices for Intercollegiate Sports agreed to by the university, and that the school has been instructed to postpone team activities.

Charter School Teacher Named New Mexico Teacher of the YearCedar Attanasio, Associated Press

An Albuquerque charter school educator has been named New Mexico Teacher of the Year.

Alisa Cooper de Uribe, a bilingual first grade teacher at New Mexico International School, is the second charter school teacher to win the award in the program's 57-year history.

As Teacher of the Year, Cooper de Uribe will promote professional development and serve as an example to her peers.

The selection comes as the coronavirus pandemic has compounded inequality among New Mexico’s students.

A native of Raton, Cooper de Uribe says she was inspired to study languages by interacting with international students as a youth. She will represent her state in the national Teacher of the Year competition.

Unlike previous Teachers of the Year who have taken sabbaticals, Cooper de Uribe will continue teaching at her school.

New Mexico is home to 98 public charter schools that have been created since the 1990s. Funded by public dollars and subject to similar accountability rules as public schools, they are allowed to pursue alternative curricula and governance structures.

New Mexico Governor: 'The Virus Is Now Winning' - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham warned Thursday that an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 infections is likely to strain the state's health care system as confirmed cases set a new single-day record at 672.

State health officials said that intensive care units are full at two major hospitals out of three in Albuquerque as infections accelerate and that the trend could end up constraining other medical services. 

"The virus is now winning," said Lujan Grisham. "This is a crisis level never seen before."

She called the situation "horrifying" and urged people to limit daily outings whenever possible and return to a stay-at-home mentality. The governor hinted at new enforcement actions in instances of repeated violations of public health orders, without specifying exact measures.

Lujan Grisham has already limited gatherings to five people or less, reduced hotel capacities and a set 10 p.m. closing time for restaurants and bars.

The statewide positive infection rate has crept into the "high risk" category used by New Mexico to evaluate risks associated with travel to other states.

The scale of the problem is reflected in a record-setting 611 rapid responses by state health officials to businesses and government institutions where infections turned up during the week ending Oct. 11. 

Lujan Grisham said there are no indications that the resurgent pandemic will interfere with the rollout of widespread in-person voting on Saturday at hundreds of voting convenience centers, though new precautions may become necessary for elderly volunteer poll workers.


Gov's Chief Of Staff On Leave To Aid Biden Transition Team - Associated Press

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham's chief of staff John Bingaman has taken a leave of absence to help with Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden's transition team.

Lujan Grisham was recently named as one of the co-chairs of Biden's transition committee and asked Bingaman to assist with the potential transition. 

Spokesperson for Lujan Grisham, Nora Meyers Sackett, says Bingaman took a leave of absence starting last week because his duties relevant to the Biden campaign are not within the scope of state government affairs. 

Bingaman is the son of former New Mexico Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who served from 1983 to 2013. John Bingaman has been the governor's chief of staff since she took office in Jan. 2019. 

Matthew Garcia, the governor's chief legal counsel, will serve as Lujan Grisham's chief of staff on an interim basis, Sackett said.

Navajo Nation Lowering Flags To Honor Late Tribal President - Associated Press

All flags on the Navajo Nation will be flown at half-staff through Monday in honor of former tribal President Thomas Atcitty. 

The 86-year-old Atcitty died Sunday in New Mexico. 

Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez and Vice President Myron Lizer issued the proclamation for the flag lowering that is set to begin Friday morning. 

Atcitty was the tribe's vice president from 1995-1998 and served as president for five months in 1998. 

He also served seven terms as a New Mexico state representative from 1980-1994. 

From 1972-1977, Atcitty was the president of Navajo Community College, the first tribal college on a Native American reservation. It later became Diné College. 

Navajo Nation Reports 31 New COVID-19 Cases, No New Deaths - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials on Thursday reported 31 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, but no deaths for the second consecutive day. 

The latest figures bring the total number of cases to 10,819 including 14 delayed reported cases. The known death toll remained at 571.

Tribal health officials say 114,515 people on the reservation that covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah have been tested for COVID-19 since the pandemic started and 7,360 have recovered. 

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.