Dell Weston, left, holds out his hands to receive hand sanitizer from a poll worker at the fair grounds early voting center on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, in Santa Fe, N.M. Weston, a retired artist and metalworker, said he's a Republican plans to vote for Trump. He came for a sample ballot so that he could research down-ballot candidates and issues before he votes in person in the coming weeks. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

Watchdog group cites interference at polls in Latino areas

October 21, 2020 - 7:52 pm

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A voting rights group says that caravans of flag-waving President Donald Trump supporters appeared to obstruct and intimidate voters at two polling location in predominantly ethnic-minority neighborhoods last weekend in the Albuquerque area.

Common Cause New Mexico Executive Director Heather Ferguson said Wednesday that the incidents took place early Saturday afternoon on the first day of balloting at voter convenience centers in the South Valley and western reaches of Albuquerque on Central Avenue — areas that are heavily Latino.

She estimated that dozens of potential voters in each location left without voting immediately as a result of the incidents. But she added that a poll judge intervened at the Central Avenue voting center to help ensure access and keep electioneering at a distance.

“I think we got to see that the process is working,” Ferguson said.

The Bernalillo County district attorney’s office is investigating the incidents, agency spokeswoman Brandale Mills-Cox said. She declined further comment.

State Republican Party spokesman Mike Curtis said he has no direct knowledge of the matter. Representatives for the Trump reelection campaign had no immediate comment when contacted.

State statute prohibits electioneering within 100 feet (30 meters) of a polling place, approaching a voter within 50 feet (15 meters) of poll doors or blocking access in any way.

Based on witness accounts and recorded images, Ferguson said a group of about 50 slow-moving, tightly spaced cars interfered with public access as they drove close by a polling location on Central Avenue. She said a poll judge diffused the situation by informing demonstrators of state restrictions on electioneering and interference.

At the South Valley voting center, about 100 Trump supporters lined both sides of the street, standing next to vehicles and mingling with traffic. Ferguson said that group dispersed as sheriff's deputies arrived.

“Voters felt like they had to run the gauntlet trying to get to the polling station, and many of them saw what was going on and just turned their vehicles around and left,” Ferguson said.

Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Joseph Montiel said that deputies in two patrol vehicles responded to concerns at the South Valley polling location.

The agency received a call about Trump supporters allegedly harassing people lined up to vote and another about fear of being harassed, he said. Deputies did not encounter a disturbance when they arrived, and no formal complaint was filed.

Ferguson said the caravans prominently displayed support for Trump that included flags, signs and stickers. She said Common Cause monitors for election interference without regard to political affiliation.

The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office had no immediate comment on the incidents.

Federal law enforcement authorities announced in early October that they would step up vigilance of any possible civil rights violations related to the Nov. 3 election by establishing an FBI command post in Albuquerque and assigning a federal prosecutor to monitor complaints or threats.

Trump has repeatedly attacked the integrity of the U.S. elections by spreading falsehoods about the security of voting and misrepresenting issues with mail ballots.

Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico have establishing a hotline to provide voters with assistance if they encounter any irregularities or difficulties in voting.

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