Justin Schatz is The Paper's daily news reporter. He has reported on New Mexico for KRQE News, Searchlight NM and the Santa Fe Reporter.

,

Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin’s federal trial for his involvement in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot has finally come to an end, but what will happen to his spot on the Commission remains up in the air. For now. Griffin was found guilty of trespassing on federal grounds, but found not guilty of disorderly conduct. In addition to his much-hyped trial, the commissioner has received national attention for his role in approving a taxpayer funded audit of the 2020 election.

The narrative that has gripped many in the GOP since the 2020 election is that there was widespread election fraud, which resulted in President Joe Biden’s victory over Donald Trump. There has been little evidence that widespread election fraud had taken place, but that hasn’t stopped GOP lawmakers and Trump loyalists from using taxpayer dollars to fund their own investigations into perceived election fraud.

In January, the Otero County Commissioners, all three of whom are Republican, approved a $49,750 audit contract with software company Echomail, Inc. The company was founded after the 2020 election by Shiva Ayyadurai, one of the most outspoken and wealthy election-conspiracy theorists. Echomail partnered with “New Mexico Audit Force” (not a legal entity, but a group of volunteers) to manage on-the-ground operations of the audit.

The contract has attracted national attention, along with concerns from state officials. New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colón has opened a special examination into the legality of the audit. This isn’t the first time Colón has turned his attention to Otero County, the first being Griffin’s use of the county’s funds to attend a Trump Rally in DC. The rally cost Otero County residents $3,237. The House Oversight Committee has launched an investigation into the audit.

The audit in Otero County has inspired calls by other New Mexico GOP lawmakers in the state to demand a statewide audit into the 2020 election. Audrey Trujillo, a GOP candidate for New Mexico Secretary of State, has defended the Otero County audit. “We are seeing smears, lies, disinformation from this current administration in regards to the Otero County audit. This audit is being conducted to alleviate fears that voters have about our elector process,” Trujillo said in an official statement in response to the state’s special examination of the audit. “Right now, our elected officials are not being honest and transparent. No matter what your political affiliation is, these issues affect everyone and if we don’t properly address those issues, nothing is going to change for the better.”

As part of her campaign, Trujillo has called for a statewide audit into the 2020 election.

New Mexico GOP lawmakers have embraced the narrative that the 2020 election was riddled with fraud. Former weatherman and GOP gubernatorial candidate Mark Ronchetti’s official campaign website states: “He strongly opposes the practice of automatically issuing mail-in ballots without a voter request. Given the high number of bad addresses contained in our state’s voter file, automatically issuing mail-in ballots without a request from the voter is an invitation for fraud.” While not outwardly calling for an audit, he doesn’t shy away from questioning the election results either.

While many GOP candidates have been silent on Griffin’s conviction, a few candidates cozied up to the Cowboys for Trump leader prior to January 6. Ronchetti appears in a photograph taken with Griffin at a 2020 New Mexico Republican Party Primary Convention. Rep. Yvette Herrell received endorsement from the group, and posed with Griffin as well.

Other New Mexico GOP lawmakers have also voiced their support for audits into the 2020 election. Rio Rancho County Commissioner Commissioner and GOP gubernatorial candidate Jay Block expressed his support for an audit into the 2020 election via a tweet he made in July. “I support anyone who wants to do an audit. They were done in ’16 and I didn’t have any issue with that or the ’20 audits. Voter ID, clean up the rolls, IV&V software. Let’s see what the audits turn up and go from there. Tons of lawyers involved.”

Gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Dow also took to Twitter to state, “I would think that even the declared winners would want to assure the public we have election integrity!”

It seems that an election audit is a call from far right groups and politicians; to date, no Republican candidates in New Mexico have denounced the audit, and in fact have embraced the idea as part of their platform.