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Torrance County commissioners voted to accept the canvass of the General Election at its Nov. 17 meeting, the bulk of which was given to the General Election.
After the Torrance County Commission voted to censure the Torrance County Clerk a month before that election, Yvonne Otero has been a no-show—leaving the job of running the election in the hands of the Deputy Clerk, who is authorized to perform any of the duties of the Clerk in her absence.
Members of the public and the commission had questions about the election after discrepancies in the Primary Election held in June.
County Manager Janice Barela said that Otero committed malfeasance when she pre-signed blank certification forms for voting machines to be used in the General Election.
Ordinarily, certification of voting machines—which can be witnessed by any members of the public who may want to—is a time-consuming process in which a technician checks each machine, one by one, to ensure that everything is working properly.
Barela contacted the Secretary of State’s office with her concerns on Sept. 29 and said she hasn’t been able to follow up with her questions to that office because they asked for a final report, which she hasn’t completed yet due to those unanswered questions.
Investigation of Drug Use and Sexual Misconduct
Barela also brought forward separate allegations of drug use and illegal activity on the part of the County Clerk, and has asked Attorney General to investigate. That was after the county did an internal investigation in which Otero admitted to many of the allegations against her, including using cocaine for more than six years.
The investigation report, through interviews with all but one of the people working in the Torrance County Clerk’s office, paints a picture of casual talk about drug use, allowing password access to a county laptop to the Clerk’s brother, a possible affair with a delivery driver and setting off a Taser near the ear of the person who made the complaint.
Asked about the Torrance County Clerk’s office, the AG’s director of communications responded only, “Our review is in process.”
The Secretary of State and AG had issued a joint press release on “potential disruptions to county-level election certification process” which says, “Our offices are aware that election conspiracy theorists who have played a role in recent attempts to undermine New Mexico’s elections may now be attempting to enlist county commissions to thwart legal certification of the 2022 General Election results.”
The county’s Nov. 17 meeting featured several members of the public who expressed distrust of the electoral process and urged commissioners not to approve the canvass.
But Deputy Clerk Sylvia Chavez said she is confident that the final vote tally was accurate and that all votes have been accounted for. She pointed to her 17 years of experience under prior Clerks and said she was able to get her questions answered by the Secretary of State.
Chavez went through the results precinct by precinct to show the commissioners that the total number of ballots cast matched the number of voters who showed up.
Because Otero is an elected official, she can’t be fired by the county manager or the commission; a recall by voters would be in order. Barela said in October that she would fire Otero if she could.
Torrance County has around 9,000 registered voters and 11 polling locations, plus those at the Clerk’s office.
The Secretary of State’s office did not respond to requests for information.