Santa Fe New Mexican: County clerks say Duran, staff got ‘nasty’ as election night tensions ran high

By Milan Simonich
Reposted from the Santa Fe New Mexican. Friday, June 6, 2014 9:00 pm

Two county clerks say they received loud, abusive phone calls on election night from New Mexico Secretary of State Dianna Duran and one of her top aides over the speed at which clerks processed returns for this week’s primary election.

Duran, a Republican who is seeking re-election this fall, on Tuesday night personally called the Rio Arriba County clerk, Moises Morales, to complain about not receiving results so they could be posted to the secretary of state’s election website.

Rod Adair, who managed Duran’s last campaign and now is employed as one of her senior managers, made a similar call to the Doña Ana County clerk, Lynn Ellins. Ellins said Adair’s tirade was “mean and nasty.”

“The next time that your office asks us to cooperate with yours, please instruct Mr. Adair to wash out his mouth before calling me, and to lower his voice to a respectful conversational tone,” Ellins wrote in a post-election note to Duran. “Likewise, I don’t care to be hung up on during the midst of one of his temper tantrums.”

Duran’s chief of staff, Ken Ortiz, responded for her. He said the clerks’ allegations about abusive treatment were untrue.

“Our office is concerned about accurate and timely election returns for the people of New Mexico. That is the key issue,” Ortiz said. “No one was treated abusively or rudely. The proper sense of urgency was conveyed.”

Ortiz said it was improper for the Doña Ana elections staff to keep much of the public waiting for returns that affect statewide elections, all the while posting results on his county website. As for Rio Arriba County, Ortiz said, residents were getting rumors, not results, and that was unacceptable.

Ellins, though, said Adair tried to intimidate him.

“Threats to go to the press — as he did on Tuesday night — with misleading and false allegations concerning the so-called untimely release of election-night results by my office are political hogwash and fail to burnish the reputation of your office,” Ellins said in the note to Duran.

Morales gave a similar account of being browbeaten, except he said he got an angry earful from Duran herself.

“I received a rather rude and unprofessional call, with raised voice, from Dianna Duran,” Morales said. “I was unable to understand what exactly she was saying due to her raised voice, so I gave the phone to a staff member qualified to answer election questions. Dianna then proceeded to treat this staff member with disrespect.”

Morales said Duran phoned about 10:30 p.m., or some 11 minutes after some election results had been emailed to the Secretary of State’s Office.

In an interview, Morales said he was proud of his staff members, despite widespread criticisms of his office for delays in releasing election results. He said his staff performed well despite the difficulty of compiling returns from two distant offices, a job that was made harder by computer problems.

“As both the Tierra Amarilla and Española office send results, this causes problems with the system. Each time one office sends results, it erases the other office’s results,” he said. “So my staff was instructed to send the results from each office to an email address where they would be combined and uploaded.”

Ellins, quoting state election law, said his office is required only to “report the unofficial returns for the county to the secretary of state within 10 hours after the polls close” at 7 p.m. Ellins said he made this legal deadline with hours to spare, uploading the first returns to Duran’s office at 9:16 p.m. and filing them all by 10:30 p.m.

“While I think that your new system is a good idea, neither I nor any other county clerk are mandated to utilize it. You and your staff are not our bosses. The citizens of our counties are,” Ellins wrote. “PS. I understand that at least two counties didn’t upload their results until midnight. Did they get cranky calls, too?”

Duran also clashed with the Bernalillo County clerk, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, over who was responsible for a set of inaccurate election returns that were posted on the secretary of state’s website for several minutes Tuesday night. Oliver, a Democrat, is Duran’s opponent in the November general election.

Ortiz, Duran’s chief of staff, sent a long statement Friday, saying a computer audit trail traced the error to Oliver’s staff.

“Our information technology department found the result file that was uploaded by Bernalillo County at 7:03 p.m.,” Ortiz said. The file, made for a test run on the election reporting system, originally was created May 12, he said.

Oliver said otherwise.

“Based on the documentation we’ve received, we see no evidence that a test file was sent by Bernalillo County on election night,” she said Friday.

Oliver also said Ortiz’s evidence of how the error occurred was never sent directly to her. She said she only received his account from reporters seeking her reaction.

“This leads us to conclude that they are not interested in fixing the problem moving forward. What’s clear, however, is that they are very interested in treating this as a political situation by pushing a news story about an error that occurred on their website, and that was almost instantaneously corrected, instead of working together to find solutions,” Oliver said.
Duran four years ago became the first Republican elected as secretary of state since 1928. Neither she nor Oliver had primary opposition Tuesday, so they have been preparing for the general election for months.