Three 2012 Republican election candidates and one private citizen are suing former Sandoval County Clerk Sally Padilla and current county Bureau of Elections Director Eddie Gutierrez over the long lines at Rio Rancho voting centers on Election Day.
State Senate District 9 candidate David Doyle, Sandoval County Clerk candidate Paula Papponi and county probate judge candidate Lawrence McClain, all Republicans, claim in the lawsuit that they lost their races because the long waits, sometimes in excess of five hours, kept Republicans from voting. Rio Rancho resident Theresa Fleming puts forth that because of a chronic health condition, she couldn’t withstand the long wait to vote.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday.
It names current Sandoval County Clerk Eileen Garbagni and Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver as nominal defendants because they would oversee new elections if the court granted the plaintiffs’ request. One Senate District 9 precinct is in Bernalillo County.
The suit asks the court to require Sandoval County election officials to adopt and enforce “uniform standards that provide reasonable opportunities for Rio Rancho voters to exercise their constitutional rights to vote early or on Election Day” and to establish a system that guarantees minimal wait times for all county voters. It also asks the court to mandate that Rio Rancho have at least 15 voting convenience centers, with the number rising in proportion to the increase of registered voters in the city, and that each voting center have at least six printers.
“This lawsuit is filed to remedy the systemic failures in the administration of the 2012 general election in Rio Rancho, N.M., which deprived thousands of citizens of their right to vote,” the complaint says.
According to the complaint, Gutierrez and Padilla consolidated 47 precincts into five “convenience centers” for 57,946 voters and provided only three ballot printers at each center, despite estimates by the printer distributor that the machines couldn’t print more than 300 ballots each in the 12-hour election day.
The county didn’t consolidate any of the 29 precincts outside Rio Rancho and supplied those precincts with pre-printed ballots, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also complains of less-dramatic election problems in Rio Rancho in 2004 and 2008.
Rio Rancho voters are predominately Republican, while Sandoval County voters outside the city are primarily Democrat, as are Gutierrez and Padilla, according to the complaint.
Gutierrez previously said that his initial estimates showed the election equipment he had would be sufficient and, once he realized it wasn’t, the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office had no more voting machines available. He took responsibility for the problems but denied wrongdoing.
Padilla repeatedly denied there was any significant problem, saying there were always long lines.
The state Attorney General’s Office initiated an investigation into the possibility of voter suppression.
The lawsuit says 5,000 people were prevented from voting on Election Day, and estimates that the three Republican candidate plaintiffs would have won if those people had been able to vote.
“The deprivation of law, rights and privileges was a natural consequence of defendants’ actions, irrespective of whether such consequence was intended,” the complaint reads.