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Election audit rattles residents of Otero County

County Commissioner Couy Griffin in his office in Alamogordo
Alice Fordham
County Commissioner Couy Griffin in his office in Alamogordo

An audit of the 2020 election is underway in Otero County, and dozens of people have expressed concern about a team of volunteers knocking on people's doors to ask about their vote.

A representative of Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said about 20 people have contacted her office about the canvassers, and 40 to 50 people have called the Otero County office. She said many were worried.

"Really, what their concern is, you know, who are these people?" she said in an online press conference. "How did they get my personal information? Why are they asking me questions, not only about how I voted, but about things like my marital status?"

The issue was highlighted in a TikTok post, viewed more than 60,000 times, featuring a recording of what the TikTok poster says was a canvasser saying they were from the County Commission.

The post also included what looked like an email response from the County Attorney R. B. Nichols saying the volunteers are unvetted and not hired by or working for the county.

That attorney, Nichols, raised legal concerns about voter privacy before the county's Commissioners, including prominent supporter of former president Donald Trump Couy Griffin, voted to conduct the audit in January. Nichols questioned whether the volunteers canvassing people for information about their vote would be, legally, representatives of the county.

At that public meeting, Erin Clements, the wife of David Clements, who is leading the audit, said that the volunteers would contribute a report but not be commissioned by the county. She said that the volunteers would, "introduce ourselves as New Mexico Audit Force and not mention the county at all."

State Auditor Brian Colón's office is investigating the Otero County audit, after more than one person contacted his office to complain about it. He said that he was concerned about whether the $50,000 project was an appropriate use of public funds, and whether the contract to conduct the audit was awarded correctly.

"I know the public was concerned about this being sole source procurement," he said. "And this being an audit of an election that had already been certified and conducted over a year ago."

"I don't think there's any more productive way to spend tax dollars than to make sure our elections aren't compromised," said Griffin before he voted to proceed with the audit in January.

Griffin participated in the events at the US Capitol in January 6 last year, he has been charged with entering a restricted building, and disorderly conduct inside the building and is awaiting trial.

Although Otero County voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in 2020 presidential election, Griffin told KUNM he wanted to audit the vote to make it easier for people in other counties to call for audits there.

"I'd like to create a blueprint for other counties to be able to follow," he said. "If we can do that, then maybe Sierra County and Lincoln County and Catron County and these other rural counties can audit their elections."

Alice Fordham joined the news team in 2022 after a career as an international correspondent, reporting for NPR from the Middle East and later Latin America and Europe. She also worked as a podcast producer for The Economist among other outlets, and tries to meld a love of sound and storytelling with solid reporting on the community. She grew up in the U.K. and has a small jar of Marmite in her kitchen for emergencies.