Tierna Unruh-Enos is publisher at The Paper.

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An investigator from the State Auditor’s office had some harsh words for the three Otero County Commissioners regarding the election audit contract that was awarded to EchoMail Inc. software company for $49,750. The contract awarded to EchoMail was to audit the 2020 General Election voter rolls in Otero County and would be managed by a volunteer organization called New Mexico Audit Force. The contract was approved at the Jan. 13 Otero County Commission meeting by all three commissioners–Gerald Matherly, Vickie Marquardt and Cowboys for Trump leader Couy Griffin–despite legal objections by both the County Attorney EB Nichols and the County Clerk Robyn Holmes.

“Careless and Extravagant Waste of Public Funds”

It may seem perplexing that a county in southern New Mexico which historically has voted Republican, and specifically voted Republican in the 2020 election, would request an audit. County Clerk Robyn Holmes is also a Republican. So why would the commissioners see the need for an audit? That’s exactly what the State Auditor’s office wanted to know.

On Monday, March 14 the Auditor’s office sent a harshly worded letter to the County Commissioners, calling the audit “political grandstanding” and one that “does not appear to serve any useful purpose.” The letter went on to say that the commissioners were careless with taxpayer dollars.

“From our review, it appears the County Commissioners may have abused their power in approving the County’s contract with the vendor for an ‘election audit’ that was not in the best interests of constituents and seemingly purely political grandstanding. The stated purpose and methodology of the ‘audit’ gives the appearance of the entire affair simply being a careless and extravagant waste of public funds, which does not appear to serve any useful purpose to the taxpayers of Otero County,” said Special Investigations Director Shawn P. Beck.

The investigator also noted that Holmes conducts three audits after the election to confirm that the vote count is accurate. Holmes explained to commissioners in the Jan. 13 meeting that three audits are completed after every election: by County Clerk staff, then by the Secretary of State’s Office and finally by an independent auditor who also verifies the vote count from each county.

In the Jan. 13 commission meeting, Griffin noted that he could see “no better way to spend taxpayer dollars” than to ensure that voter fraud was not taking place. The Auditor’s Office did not agree.

“There were no specific or articulable facts provided by Commissioners to support any allegation that fraud may have occurred in an election which fell under the jurisdiction of the County as part of the 2020 general election. However, second and third hand statements were made regarding allegations of potential fraud occurring outside of the County’s jurisdiction, in other states, which were ultimately deemed without merit.”

In other words, Commissioners approved a contract based on allegations of voter fraud in other states, like Maricopa County, Ariz. That election audit contract was also awarded to EchoMail, Inc. and managed by the security firm, the Cyber Ninjas. Following the audit, a bipartisan committee of election officials disputed every claim. New Mexico Audit Force says their audit will be different because they will have no break in the chain of custody of the ballots.

The investigator also found that the commissioners may have violated County procurement procedures by “failing to conduct with complete impartiality and without preferential treatment.” During the Jan. 13 meeting and in all communications requested by The Paper., New Mexico Audit Force has not been impartial in their assessment of the election audit. The audit was awarded on the baseless assumption by commissioners and New Mexico Audit Force that Donald Trump won the election, and that an election audit would prove it. David Clements, a former New Mexico State University professor and his wife Erin Clements are the organizers of Audit Force. At a March 10 commission meeting, David defended the work that the canvassers are doing. “New Mexico Audit Force isn’t a company, it’s not a person. There are many canvassers who don’t even know what Audit Force is. It’s just a place where people can talk about what’s going on.”

Does The Audit Stop Now?

As of Monday, New Mexico Audit Force will continue its audit. The Auditor’s Office gave the commissioners 15 days to respond to the State Auditor’s Office investigator’s concerns and provide documentation of concerns of election fraud in Otero County prior to awarding the contract, as well as a host of other issues regarding management of its contract with EchoMail.

Last week, New Mexico Audit Force was given access to the 2020 Otero County ballots for a rerun. The ballot rerun was overseen by the County Clerk and scanned the ballots. One of the facets of the audit is an inspection and rerun of all the ballots cast during the 2020 General Election.

The Secretary of State and the Attorney General have released information that voters in Otero County and New Mexico should be aware of their rights to privacy after problematic reports have emerged as a third-party election “audit” is being conducted in Otero County. The SOS office said that Otero County has reported they’ve received between 40-50 calls and the SOS has received over 20.

Read the entire letter below: