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Analysis: No election fraud detected so far in messy Otero County audit

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Analysis: No election fraud detected so far in messy Otero County audit

May 11, 2022 | 3:16 pm ET
By Margaret Wright
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Analysis: No election fraud detected so far in messy Otero County audit
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Erin Clements and her husband David (at left, seated beside retired engineer Jeffrey Lenberg) sparred vocally with a member of the audience during Monday night's special Otero County Commission meeting. The Clements accused the man of stirring up threats against them. He said he was simply pressing them to be more open about the motives and methods their New Mexico Audit Force is using to evaluate how local elections are conducted. (Screenshot from the Otero County Commission meeting on Monday, May 9, 2022)

Election-deniers probing 2020 results in Otero County updated elected officials there this week on the status of their voter audit, which recently sparked a congressional investigation into its legality. 

The evening’s heated conversation centered on the fragile state of contemporary democratic processes, but opening Monday night’s crowded special meeting of the Otero County Commission in Alamogordo was retired Sandia National Laboratories engineer Jeffrey Lenberg, a spectacled older man in a suit. 

His demeanor was reserved next to local firebrand David Clements. Along with Clements’ wife Erin, they told commissioners and attendees about the status of a local 2020 general election audit contracted by the county in January — one of several launched across the United States in response to pressure from Trump adherents falsely convinced his election loss was the result of fraud. 

Former President Trump won Otero County in 2020 by a wide margin.

Congressional oversight panel to investigate ‘vigilante’ audit in Otero County

David Clements, a former district attorney and New Mexico State University law professor fired for non-compliance with COVID-19 prevention measures, has been the most vociferous driver of the Otero audit. In March, New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver decried the audit and its associated canvassing of registered voters as a “vigilante” effort that could further undermine public faith in elections.

Both Lenberg and the Clements spoke with zeal about their county-wide work with the Clements’ New Mexico Audit Force. Lenberg said his qualifications included years as an electrical engineer and systems security analyst for Sandia Labs throughout the 1980s and 90s, as well as a stint volunteering technical expertise for a Maryland election integrity effort in 1994. 

EchoMail refund

After a Daily Beast report was published about the Otero County audit, Lenberg said that the original contractor, a digital communications company owned by conspiracist and aspiring Massachusetts politician Shiva Ayyadurai, “made the determination they didn’t want to be involved in some of the controversy and the political nature of the issues.” On March 17 — the day after a congressional panel sent a letter requesting information about the audit to Echomail — the company turned over the work completed so far to Lenberg and the Clements.

The next day, Ayyadurai wrote a letter to the U.S. House Oversight Committee that denied EchoMail was involved in the Otero audit. He also refused any affiliation with the Clements’ New Mexico Audit Force. 

EchoMail refunded some of the taxpayer-funded payment to the county. “We had to come to an agreement over how much that was worth,” Lenberg said, and “after talking to them, we were able to get a refund of $15,125. They spent just under $10,000 on work they did do.”

EchoMail’s analysis for the county detected no fraud, said Lenberg — before immediately back-tracking his statement. 

“That is not to say that there was no fraud or issues, because that was, again, a very limited analysis. The county has no further contracts with EchoMail or any contract for further audits to occur. But I believe the Clements and their organization are continuing an independent analysis of the 2020 election because they’re concerned citizens.”

Lenberg repeatedly thanked and commended the Otero County Clerk’s Office for all the information and help they’d provided for his analysis of their election systems, which in his opinion was functional overall but still contained some technical  “vulnerabilities” to interference. 

Evidence shows EchoMail involvement in Otero County ‘audit’ canvassing, congressional panel says

Convicted commissioner explains the audit

The commissioner with the most full-throated (if raspy) support for the audit was Cowboys for Trump frontman Couy Griffin. 

He told attendees that he’d talked to a member of the press before the meeting who’d asked if he thought the audit would uncover more local votes from 2020 for former president Donald Trump.

Griffin, who was convicted last month of trespassing resulting from his prayerful rallying of rioters at the Capitol during the Jan. 6, 2021 coup attempt, said he’d replied that he wasn’t concerned about the vote count. “I’m concerned about the law being followed.”

Griffin conceded that like many others, he hasn’t moved on from the 2020 election results. “If there’s a footprint that’s still left, digitally speaking, on the 2020 election, that could directly produce direct evidence of this fraud … if we have to take whatever measures it would take to look deeper into them, I would also be in favor of that.”

“The country is depending on it,” David Clements replied.

A history of disputes

Clements cited Christian scripture repeatedly during the County Commission meeting. “The Lord abhors inaccurate weights and measures,” he said, declaring Otero County “a potential crime scene.” Then he urged attendees to watch a documentary by Dinesh D’Souza, a right-wing conspiracist whose felony conviction for illegal campaign contributions was overturned by Trump.

Clements himself has been in several heated disputes over the years. He contested the primary results of his 2014 run for U.S. Senate. He was fired in 2021 from his position teaching business law at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces for refusing to comply with mask and vaccine mandates. 

U.S. House panels probe election disinformation in Arizona, Florida, Ohio and Texas

At the same time, he was gaining notoriety among Trump supporters on their Big Lie circuit as a salt-and-peppered “good professor” lending his knowledge to a cadre of 2020 election conspiracists. He has 125,000 subscribers to his Telegram social media channel and until recently, hewed closely to Lin Wood, one of the many characters who emerged to spread the Big Lie about the 2020 election. According to additional Daily Beast reporting earlier this month, Wood and the Clements appear to have had a falling-out over Otero County’s audit.

“What’s it worth to you when you sleep at night?” Clements asked commissioners Monday night. “Right now, you’ve got a packed room here that doesn’t believe that their votes matter, and we’re on the cusp of a primary election  … You need to leave this session knowing that this is an emergency.”

Meanwhile, the communications director for the Secretary of State’s office, Alex Curtas, told Source New Mexico in a written statement Tuesday that methods of the Clements’ New Mexico Audit Force are faulty, and the conclusions they’ve drawn “to impugn the integrity of our elections are utterly and completely false.” 

New Mexico runs some of the safest, most efficient, and most transparent elections in the entire country, he wrote. 

Sadly, the implications of these flawed ‘audits’ that political operatives are continuing to spread around the country will likely be a further degradation of trust in our electoral systems.

– Alex Curtas, Secretary of State's Office

“We encourage voters to seek out trusted sources of election information, like through their county clerk or our office, and to look skeptically on claims about the Big Lie like those pushed by Mr. and Mrs. Clements.

Toward the end of the Monday evening’s proceedings, David Clements rhetoric had stoked to a fever pitch. He told commissioners they would have to choose “whether we’re going to kowtow and be bullied” by the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.

Getting technical

Clements told the commissioners what to do: Call an emergency session. Declare a vote of no-confidence in the conduct of local elections. Vote that elections be conducted solely by hand-counts of paper ballots. 

“This is about courage. That’s all it comes down to. Do you have the same courage as the stuff that we’re demonstrating? Please do not wait. Please get this on the agenda as an action item and don’t put yourselves in the position to certify this mess, because I can guarantee you this. We’re not going away. We’ll be back every two weeks until we die if necessary to get this straightened out.”

Time is ticking away, he said gravely. 

Commissioner Griffin agreed with Lenberg and David Clemens that the county needed to proceed with eliminating voting machines. 

“I’m amazed and boggled that we put so much faith and trust and confidence in a digital machine,” Griffin said, to public applause and cheers. Scarce pushback against the commission’s ongoing determination to undermine election norms was either waved off or shouted down by the Clements or Griffin. 

Elected Republican County Clerk Robyn Holmes spoke up throughout the meeting, saying that the Clements’ evidence of fraud appeared either misinterpreted or inaccurate, to which Erin replied, “We don’t answer to you. I’m sorry. … We’re auditors. This is an approved audit.”

County Attorney R.B. Nichols tried highlighting that state law requires use of voting machines in every county, and that the Otero County clerk recommends their use. On top of that, he said, “there’s federal law that we use at least one machine, at each precinct, to meet ADA standards.”

“That’s why David mentioned courage,” Griffin replied, gesturing to Clements. 

As the meeting finally began to wind down, someone held a cell phone up to a microphone so Commissioner Vickie Marquardt could call in and affirm that she’d been attending, if remotely. She said she still fully supports the audit. 

“Thank God for technology,” Griffin said, “that you can dial up and stay on with what’s going on.”