ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) — For months, Donald Trump has been warning of a rigged election and urging his supporters to keep an eye on the polls on Election Day.
“I hope you people can sort of not just vote on the 8th,” he told a Pennsylvania crowd in August, “Go around and look and watch other polling places and make sure that it’s 100 percent fine.”
On Thursday, he asked rally-goers in Colorado how much they trusted the voting process.
“So when you send them in, do you think they’re properly counted?” Trump asked. “I know they’re all saying, ‘Oh, of course, everything is so legitimate. Everything is so…’ Perhaps I’m a more skeptical person, okay?”
But while New Mexico law has long allowed for poll challengers, watchers and observers on Election Day, there are rules. One of the most important, the deadline for registering to keep an eye on the voting process, passed last month.
State law lets political parties appoint challengers through county or precinct chairs. That list has to be given to the secretary of state 10 days before the election. The same goes for election observers — groups like Common Cause or researchers from the University of New Mexico. Five days before the election, the secretary of state sends a letter to New Mexico’s 33 county clerks along with a list that lets them know who to expect at polling places on Election Day. Credentials are created to help identify poll monitors.
“Anyone without those credentials is not allowed to be in the polls on Election Day,” said Kari Fresquez, elections director for New Mexico.
Most political parties and election-related groups take time to teach election monitors about how to spot irregularities and how to raise objections.
“They care about the process. They have received training so that they’re aware of the laws; what they can do, what they can’t do,” said Fresquez.
Showing up unannounced on Election Day as a self-proclaimed poll watcher is not just useless, then, it’s illegal. The secretary of state’s office has been in touch with county clerks as well as law enforcement agencies to make sure help is available if poll workers need assistance enforcing the rules.
In Sandoval County, which has seen long lines on election days and faced court challenges over its handling of votes, the sheriff’s office isn’t expecting anything unusual. Still, Lt. Keith Elder said that deputies will make polling locations part of their usual rounds on Tuesday.
Elder is also aware that New Mexico’s status as a so-called open-carry state, where guns can be legally worn in plain sight, presents an additional wrinkle. Trump supporters are frequently second-amendment enthusiasts and New Mexico does not have a law that specifically prohibits open carry at a polling location.
While there isn’t a statewide ban, many local governments have restricted firearms in the public buildings that often double as polling sites during an election. Schools, libraries and senior centers frequently ban open carry and are off limits for concealed-carry permit holders as well.
“The voter needs to check at that particular location that they desire to go vote and see if it’s permitted at that location,” Elder said.
The veteran lawman admitted that people who choose to wear a gun on their hip often attract extra attention from fellow citizens as well as police officers, but said he’s never run into an issue on Election Day. He spends far more time enforcing the state’s ban on campaigning within 100 feet of a voting site.
Fresquez said her office has worked hard to ensure New Mexicans have easy access to voting and a pleasant experience at the polls, while at the same time not ignoring the possibility that an Election Day disturbance could slow the voting process and potentially lead to election challenges.
“We just want the public to feel like we’re prepared,” she said. “And we know what to do if there is some sort of disruption. We have a plan for it.”