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MON: New Mexico embraces early and absentee voting in midterm election, + More

Early voting polling location New Mexico
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New Mexico embraces early, absentee voting in midterm - Associated Press

Voter participation by early and absentee balloting in Tuesday's election has nearly surpassed participation by those methods in New Mexico's 2018 midterm election.

The New Mexico secretary of state's office on Monday said that nearly 440,000 ballots have been cast through the close of early in-person voting on Saturday and by absentee voting, with more than a day remaining in the election. That's only a few thousand votes shy of the 2018 tally for all early and absentee ballots.

Registered Democrats accounted for nearly 52% of early and absentee ballots cast so far in advance of Election Day. Registered Republicans have cast nearly 35% of the total.

New Mexico voters are deciding whether to reelect Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who won an open race in 2018 to succeed termed-out Republican Susana Martinez.

Republican nominee and former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti has mounted a well-financed challenge that highlights concerns about crime, inflation and public school performance in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lujan Grisham is promoting her support for abortion access as a cornerstone of women's rights, while urging voters to stay the course on increased public investments in public education, health care and tuition-free college.

Biden campaigned in Albuquerque last week in support of Lujan Grisham, while Republicans ranging from Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin to former President Donald Trump have endorsed Ronchetti.

New Mexico voters are picking their favorite candidates for a long list of statewide elected offices, including secretary of state, attorney general and land commissioner to oversee energy development across vast swaths of state trust land.

Three first-term congresswomen are seeking reelection, as Democrats defend their majority in the state House.

Republican Rep. Yvette Herrell is seeking a second term after flipping the 2nd Congressional District to Republican control in 2020. She's competing with Democratic former Las Cruces city councilor Gabe Vasquez.

Fake elector contributions to Ronchetti’s campaign reach $15K - By Ryan Lowery, Source New Mexico

Since announcing his candidacy for governor late last year, Mark Ronchetti has accepted cash donations from three fake electors and one other person who’s accused of attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, campaign finance documents show.

The Ronchetti campaign has accepted a total of $15,000 from Lupe L. Garcia, Rosalind Tripp and Deborah W. Maestas, three New Mexicans who attempted to falsely award the state’s electoral votes to Donald Trump. Ronchetti also accepted a $500 donation from John Eastman, a former Trump lawyer who is under scrutiny by a congressional committee for his role in attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

The $15,000 donated by the fake electors trickled into Ronchetti’s campaign over the course of four months, with the first donation coming on June 29, three weeks after Ronchetti won the Republican primary election. Source New Mexico has been following this story throughout the campaign cycle.

The latest donations are reflected in a campaign finance report filed last week that covers the period from Oct. 4 through Nov. 1. The report shows that both Tripp and Garcia made new donations to the Ronchetti campaign in October, with Tripp giving $1,000 on Oct. 21, and Garcia contributing another $1,000 on Oct. 25.

Previous reports show that Garcia, the first fake elector to donate to Ronchetti, gave $2,000 on June 29. The next influx of cash from a fake elector came from Tripp, who donated $1,000 on Aug. 19. That same day, Tripp’s husband, Donald Tripp Jr. — who has not been implicated in the fake elector scheme — donated $2,500 to Ronchetti.

The largest donation from a fake elector came on Sept. 16 when Maestas donated $10,000, according to campaign finance reports.

Maestas is one of at least 14 fake electors nationwide who has been subpoenaed to testify before the congressional select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

A federal judge recently ordered that Eastman must provide the select committee with multiple documents, including emails related to efforts aimed at disrupting Congress’ certification of the 2020 presidential election. Eastman donated $500 to Ronchetti’s campaign on Sept. 27.

THE FAKE ELECTOR SCHEME

Rosalind Tripp, Garcia, Maestas and two others signed a document in December 2020 as part of an attempt to allocate New Mexico’s electoral votes from the 2020 election to Donald Trump, even though Joe Biden won the state by 10 percentage points.

New Mexico was one of seven states that had fake electors file phony documents in a Republican scheme to have alternate slates of electors in place with the hope that Congress would accept those slates and reject the official slates.

The 84 Republicans behind the fake elector scheme saw it as a contingency in the event of a contested election. Electors in each state were required to sign documents certifying their state’s election results by Dec. 14. By that date, no evidence disputing the 2020 election results existed.

FINAL HOURS

During the four-week period covered by the latest finance reports filed last week by all three campaigns, Ronchetti raised a little more than $1.4 million while Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham raised just over $1.3 million. Libertarian candidate Karen Bedonie is a distant third, raising a little more than $10,000.

Although Ronchetti leads in funding for the recent reporting period, Lujan Grisham has raised considerably more money throughout the course of the election. Lujan Grisham has brought in $12.5 million compared with $9.3 million raised by Ronchetti. Bedonie has raised a total of $147,000.

Finance records show that all three campaigns have spent most of what they’ve earned, too. Ronchetti has spent around $8.9 million, Lujan Grisham has spent nearly all of the $12.5 million she’s taken in, and Bedonie has spent $144,000.

In total, the three candidates have spent about $22 million this election cycle, making this one of the most expensive races in state history.

Delaney Corcoran, a spokesperson for Lujan Grisham’s reelection campaign, said the governor is in an “incredibly strong position” heading into the final hours of the campaign, and that the governor will be working until polls close Tuesday night to encourage New Mexicans to vote.

“Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s hand-picked candidate for New Mexico governor, Ronchetti, is being funded by John Eastman (and) New Mexico fake electors,” Corcoran said. “His friendliness with those determined to undermine our democracy is a dangerous sign about the extremist agenda he wants to force on New Mexicans.”

Corcoran also expressed concerns that Ronchetti’s willingness to accept funding from people who’ve already attempted to overturn an election could indicate that, if he were elected governor, Ronchetti might refuse to certify future elections in the state.

“The New Mexico governor is one of three positions in the state who certifies statewide election results,” Corcoran said. “Ronchetti’s many connections to election deniers is extremely concerning if he were to have that responsibility.”

Each campaign must file one more finance report on Jan. 9. The forthcoming report will show donations received by the campaigns in the final days before Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 8.

NO COMMENT

The Ronchetti campaign did not respond to a request for comment on this story, nor has anyone there responded to requests for comment on two previous Source New Mexico stories about contributions made to the campaign.

Garcia, Tripp and Maestas could not be reached for comment.

We will update this story if we hear back from anyone.

Native child welfare law faces major Supreme Court challenge - By Felicia Fonseca And Mark Sherman Associated Press

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Wednesday on the most significant challenge to a law that gives preference to Native American families in foster care and adoption proceedings of Native children.

The outcome could undercut the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act, which was enacted in response to the alarming rate at which Native American and Alaska Native children were taken from their homes by public and private agencies. Tribes also fear more widespread impacts in the ability to govern themselves if the justices rule against them.

The law requires states to notify tribes and seek placement with the child's extended family, members of the child's tribe or other Native American families. It's long been championed by tribal leaders as a means of preserving their families, traditions and cultures.

Three white families, Texas and a small number of other states claim the law is based on race and is unconstitutional under the equal protection clause. They also contend it puts the interests of tribes ahead of children. Lower courts have been split on the case.

"This is an all-out nuclear war attack on ICWA," said Mary Kathryn Nagle, a Cherokee attorney for the National Indigenous Women's Resource Center who filed a brief in support of the law. "We have not seen that before. That's either ironic or interesting, because the law has been on the books for 44 years, and this is the first time the constitutionality of the law has been challenged. This is unprecedented."

More than three-quarters of the 574 federally recognized tribes in the country have asked the high court to uphold the law in full, along with tribal organizations. They fear widespread impacts if the court attempts to dismantle the tribes' status as political sovereigns.

Nearly two dozen state attorneys general across the political spectrum filed a brief in support of the law. Some of those states have codified the federal law into their own state laws.

"We disagree on many things," the brief reads. "But we all agree that ICWA is a critical — and constitutionally valid — framework for managing state-tribal relations, protecting the rights of Indian children, and preventing the unwarranted displacement of Indian children from their families and communities."

Texas, Louisiana, Indiana and seven individuals have sued over the provisions of the law, though not all are involved in the case before the high court. The lead plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case — Chad and Jennifer Brackeen of Fort Worth, Texas — said the law doesn't have the best interest of children at heart.

"It's important for people to understand that this is not just a law," Jennifer Brackeen, an anesthesiologist, said in an interview with The Associated Press.

She and her husband, Chad, adopted a Native American child after a prolonged legal fight with the Navajo Nation, one of the two largest Native American tribes, based in the U.S. Southwest. They are trying to adopt the boy's half-sister, now 4, who has lived with them since infancy. The Navajo Nation has opposed that adoption.

A major problem with the law, Chad Brackeen said, is its lack of flexibility.

"We feel primary consideration is that all children, regardless of race, should be placed in loving forever homes," Jennifer Brackeen said.

A federal district court in Texas initially sided with the group of plaintiffs in 2018 and struck down much of the Indian Child Welfare Act, ruling it was race-based and unconstitutional.

But in 2019, a three-judge federal appeals court panel voted 2-1 to reverse the district court and uphold the law. The full court then agreed to hear the case and struck down some of the provisions, including preferences for placing Native children with Native adoptive families and in Native foster homes. It also said Congress overstepped its authority by imposing its will on state officials in adoption matters.

But it upheld the determination that the law is based on the political relationship between the tribes and the U.S. government, not race.

The high court has twice taken up cases on the Indian Child Welfare Act before, in 1989 and in 2013, that have stirred immense emotion.

All of the children who have been involved in the current case at one point are enrolled or could be enrolled as Navajo, Cherokee, White Earth Band of Ojibwe and Ysleta del Sur Pueblo. Some of the adoptions have been finalized while some are still being challenged. How those are affected by the Supreme Court case could depend on how the high court rules.

Before the Indian Child Welfare Act was enacted, between 25% and 35% of Native American children were being taken from their homes and placed with adoptive families, in foster care or in institutions. Most were placed with white families or in boarding schools in attempts to assimilate them.

"They would just swoop in and take our kids," said Michelle Beaudin, a council member of the Lac Courte Oreilles Tribe in Wisconsin. "And they didn't know their culture, they were just brought into another world. There was no justification for them to come into our communities."

Kate Fort, who represents intervening tribes in the case, said Native American children remain disproportionately represented in the system, but the actual figures vary dramatically by state.

"It's better than when ICWA was passed, but we still have work to do," she said in a recent call with reporters.

Beaudin, who was a foster care parent for more than 10 years, adopted her now 22-year-old daughter. She saw great value in ensuring that her daughter stayed connected to both her Ojibwe and Ho-Chunk heritage by passing down traditional skirts and participating in cultural ceremonies.

"That really helped her be confident in who she is and where she came from," Beaudin said. "She had those pieces of her. If you don't know where you came from and who your people are and what your culture is about, you don't have a sense of belonging anywhere."

___ Fonseca covers Indigenous communities on the AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow Fonseca on Twitter @FonsecaAP. Sherman reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Sophie Austin in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report. Austin is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on Twitter @sophieadanna.

___

This story has been corrected to show the attorney's surname is Fort, not Ford.

Probation for wife of ex-Española official in election case - Associated Press

The wife of a former Española city councilor was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and three years of probation for her conduct while aiding her husband's mayoral campaign in 2018.

Laura Seeds, the wife of former Española City Councilor Robert Seeds, was sentenced on Friday for her convictions for committing intimidation in a municipal election, coercion of a voter and disturbing a polling place in a municipal election.

Jerri Mares, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that Laura Seeds also is prohibited from participating in running elections.

Seeds has earlier convictions stemming from her conduct in her husband's 2016 city councilor race.

In that case, she was sentenced to five years of probation and six months of electronic monitoring for her convictions for making false statements relative to the municipal election code, conspiring to violate the election code and unlawful possession of an absentee ballot in a municipal election.

UNM honors Muslim killing victim with posthumous scholarship - Associated Press

The University of New Mexico has established a scholarship in memory of a former graduate student who was one of four Muslim men gunned down in an Albuquerque killing spree.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported Thursday that the scholarship in Muhammad Afzaal Hussain's name will be awarded to any incoming or current international students from the Middle East or South Asia.

Hussain's brother, Muhammad Imtiaz Hussain, said he was proud his brother would be remembered and that he accomplished so much as an immigrant from Pakistan.

Afzaal Hussain, 27, was Espanola's urban planning and land use director. He also had worked on the campaign of a New Mexico congresswoman. At UNM, he was president of the school's Graduate and Professional Student Association.

He was shot to death Aug. 1 while taking his evening walk.

Authorities say the killings began with the November 2021 slaying of 62-year-old Mohammad Ahmadi. The other two happened just days apart from Afzaal Hussain's. Naeem Hussain, 25, and Aftab Hussein, 41, were both from Pakistan. Hussein attended the same mosque as Afzaal Hussain.

Muhammad Syed, an Afghan refugee, has been charged in the shooting deaths of Afzaal Hussain and Hussein. He is suspected in the other two.

He has denied any involvement.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta saw more than 820,000 visitors - Associated Press

Despite some days of bad weather, this year's cavalcade of hundreds of hot air balloons in New Mexico's high desert drew nearly 830,000 people.

Organizers of the nine-day Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, which celebrated its 50th year, released attendance figures Friday.

An estimated 828,800 guests came to see 648 hot air balloons along with nearly 120 special character ones.

The festival, which ran from Oct. 1-9, saw eight liftoff sessions for balloons canceled because of gusty winds and other weather conditions.

Still, the fiesta remains one of the most photographed events in the world. It's also an economic driver for the state's largest city. Every year people from around the U.S. and abroad come for a chance to see multiple giant balloons up close.

The fiesta has grown to include a cadre of ballooning professionals from outside the U.S. Nearly 20 countries were represented including the United Kingdom, Canada, Brazil and Croatia.

Man arrested, woman sought in fatal Albuquerque shooting - Associated Press

A man has been arrested in connection with a fatal shooting outside a northeast Albuquerque hotel last year and a woman is being sought in the case, according to authorities.

Police said 27-year-old Matthew Martinez is jailed on suspicion of an open count of murder, conspiracy and shooting at or from a vehicle.

They said 29-year-old Anjanette Martinez is facing the same charges and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.

Her relationship with Matthew Martinez isn't immediately clear.

Court records show police detectives could not determine who fired the gun in the April 2021 shooting of 18-year-old Miguel Sanchez as both suspects were in the same vehicle and the evidence was inconclusive.

Police said Matthew Martinez was still on probation from a drug case at the time of incident.

According to court documents, Anjanette Martinez told police she was with Matthew Martinez when they were confronted by a woman outside the hotel and a man blocked them in.

She also said Matthew Martinez pointed the gun out the driver's side window and allegedly fired at Sanchez, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

It was unclear Sunday if Matthew Martinez has a lawyer yet who can speak on his behalf.

High court to hear water dispute between Navajo, government - Associated Press

The Supreme Court says it will hear a water dispute involving the U.S. government and the Navajo Nation.

The high court said Friday it would review a lower court ruling in favor of the Navajo Nation, which spans parts of Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. The government signed treaties with the Navajo Nation in 1849 and 1868 that established the reservation. It was later expanded westward to the Colorado River, which forms the reservation's western boundary. At issue in the case is water from the Colorado River, which itself is shrinking in part because of overuse and drought.

The case dates back to 2003, when the tribe sued, alleging that the federal government in its Colorado River projects had failed to consider or protect water rights of the tribe. Most recently, a trial court dismissed the case but a federal appeals court allowed it to proceed. The federal government is challenging that result.

The Supreme Court also agreed to hear two other cases. One is a patent case in which biotechnology company Amgen sued Sanofi and Regeneron for patent infringement. The other is a $90 million trademark dispute involving controls used to operate heavy equipment such as cranes.