The Torrance County Commissioners met in a special meeting to certify the 2023 election on Wednesday, November 15, 2023. The meeting began with Linda Jaramillo, county clerk, briefing County Commissioners Ryan Schwebach and Sam Schropp (Commissioner Kevin McCall was absent) on the election process. Jaramillo explained that she felt there were an unusual number of votes for write-in candidates in this election. She singled out Sylvia Chavez, her deputy, and Sanaida Anaya, the county elections clerk, for their help with the election.
At a small table in front of the dais used by the county commissioners during meetings, Commissioners Schropp and Schwebach examined the absentee ballots. Jaramillo, walking gingerly due to a recent knee fracture, joined the two and explained that she had verified that machine vote counts matched by-hand vote counts. The three conducted a quality control review of the voting process, discussing a problem that occurred in Torrance County Precinct 22.1, where ballots included voting options for soil and water conservation districts although they should not have. Jaramillo said that there were five ballots spoiled by the issue, but the ballots were fixed on election day. Schwebach commended Jaramillo and Anaya for catching the error.
Ms. Jaramillo said that Torrance County and Valencia County had both experienced challenges addressing the number of write-in ballots but were able to fix the issue with the assistance of Dominion. Specifically, in Torrance County, there were two write-in candidates for Willard, one write-in candidate in Mountainair, and two write-in candidates in Estancia. In response to this point regarding the write-in ballots, Commissioner Schwebach reviewed the receipt tape from the vote tabulation machines. Jaramillo said that there were six attempts at voting for a write-in candidate that failed because voters filled in the oval indicating they intended to vote for a write-in candidate but did not enter the name of the person whom the voters supported.
Commissioner Schropp talked with Jaramillo regarding the cybersecurity protections for the voting process. She responded that the county used voting machines not connected to the internet, instead relying on runners to bring in paper ballots to the county offices for Jaramillo to match up with data on the memory cards used in the tabulation machines.
How One Problem Was Solved During the Election
On election day, while voting at the Moriarty Civic Center polling station, Catherine Lee Ahring and her husband Shay were approached by a polling station volunteer. The polling worker told her husband that he had to remove his hat, adorned with the Trump campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again." After Shay Ahring removed his hat, he voted at the Moriarty polling station. Later, Ahring would express frustration regarding the experience. “My husband was asked to remove his Trump hat when we voted this morning in Torrance County.this is a violation of freedom of speech,” Ahring wrote on the Facebook page for the Republican Party of Torrance County.
Ahring contacted the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office regarding the matter, who said that Ahring and her husband were allowed to wear Trump paraphernalia despite the state’s electioneering provisions codified at NMSA 1-20-16, as Trump was neither one of the candidates running for election in the current year nor the subject of one of the referenda on the ballot in the current year.
When asked about the “Trump Hat Incident,” County Clerk Linda Jaramillo did not pass judgment on Ahring’s complaint; she responded by saying that she will pass down guidance and training to polling volunteers that wearing clothing for candidates not running in the current election cycle did not constitute electioneering. Commissioner Schropp agreed with this plan. Commissioner Schwebach said, “At this moment, I think that’s something that needs to [be] addressed in a different meeting where … this is not the time or place.”