Leaders of a far-right Telegram group pledged that its members would not misrepresent themselves as county employees when they went knocking on doors in Otero County, New Mexico for a “canvas” of local voter rolls. But just weeks later, state officials say members of the group are misrepresenting themselves—and possibly opening the county up to lawsuits.
Otero County is a solidly Republican district, with more than 60 percent of residents voting for Donald Trump in 2020. There is no evidence of widespread voter fraud there, or anywhere else in the U.S. Nevertheless, Otero commissioners have spent nearly $50,000 on an “audit” of their county’s 2020 election by EchoMail, a conspiracy-peddling company that assisted with a chaotic audit in Maricopa County, Arizona. EchoMail, in turn, contracted the “New Mexico Audit Force” or NMAF, a Telegram group that routinely promotes election conspiracy theories, to knock on Otero County doors and ask residents about their votes.
Now state officials say the NMAF is falsely representing its members as county employees during its “canvas” of local households, raising potential civil rights concerns.
Otero County approved its contract with EchoMail in January. The history of the company, founded by conspiracy promoter Shiva Ayyadurai, set off alarm bells among election-watchers, and prompted an investigation by Brian Colón, New Mexico’s state auditor.
The investigation revealed further red flags. “Our investigation appears to have found that commissioners may have put their own personal interest ahead of the public interest,” Colón told The Daily Beast.
On Monday, Colón’s office issued a letter to Otero County’s three commissioners, noting “potential violations” around the audit.
“[T]he County is deficient in their ability to properly oversee the compliance of contractual agreements and further lacks proper oversight policies for contract compliance,” Colón’s office alleges in the letter, which goes on to suggest the audit is little more than political theater.
“Additionally, from our review, it appears the County Commissioners may have abused their power in approving the County’s contract with the vendor for an ‘election audit’ that was not in the best interests of constituents and seemingly purely political grandstanding. The stated purpose and methodology of the ‘audit’ gives the appearance of the entire affair simply being a careless and extravagant waste of public funds, which does not appear to serve any useful purpose to the taxpayers of Otero County.”
The letter followed a rebuke earlier this month by New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who called the group’s efforts there a “vigilante audit.” None of Otero’s three county commissioners returned The Daily Beast’s request for comment on the letter or its allegations.
The letter takes particular issue with the NMAF’s efforts to “canvas” local households. The NMAF campaign involves knocking on doors and asking people for information about their household and how they voted. The NMAF is not an incorporated organization, but a group on the messaging platform Telegram, where its leaders routinely promote conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
Nonetheless, Otero County entered into a contract stating that the "canvass will be staffed by volunteers under the direction of New Mexico Audit Force (‘Volunteers’) with guidance from EchoMail.”
Otero County, EchoMail and the NMAF did not answer questions about the unlikely arrangement.
During a county commission meeting in January, Otero’s county attorney raised concerns that NMAF door-knockers might intimidate locals, potentially embroiling the county in legal troubles. Erin Clements, an NMAF leader replied that "we would introduce ourselves as 'New Mexico Audit Force' and not mention the county at all."
But some NMAF volunteers are deviating from that script, Colón’s office alleges.
“[A]dditional concerns brought to our attention suggest that it appears volunteer canvassers at the direction of the contractor are falsely representing themselves as employed by the County,” his letter reads. “The OSA [Office of the State Auditor] has concerns of potential liability for the County in connection with alleged civil rights violations of its citizens.”
Some of those interactions have already led to complaints. Otero County officials have received 40 to 50 calls about the audit, while New Mexico’s Secretary of State has received approximately 20, the Albuquerque Paper reported earlier this month.
One Otero County woman went viral on TikTok after she recorded her interaction with NMAF canvassers who visited her house late last month.
“We are volunteers with the Otero County Commission,” an NMAF canvasser says in the clip.
“You’re with the Otero County Commission?” the TikToker asks.
“Uh-huh, and we’re just checking that—”
“You represent our commissioners?”
“Yes, as volunteers,” the canvasser says.
The TikTok user, who did not return a request for comment, later characterized the door knocks as “a form of voter intimidation.”
David Clements, another NMAF leader, has previously encouraged canvassers to use a similar line. In a February video about canvassing, he used the example of a volunteer who, “if he’s in Otero County, will say ‘I’m a volunteer assisting Otero County, who [which] recently commissioned an audit of our elections including the voter rolls. Would you have a couple minutes to verify the information on the voter rolls for this address?’”
David Clements, a prominent 2020 election truther, has previously called for the deaths of people he believes to be traitors. In January, by which point Otero County had already entered into its contract with EchoMail and Clements had spoken at a county commission meeting, he authored multiple Telegram posts calling for firing squads and hangings “when the crime of treason has been committed.”
Later, in a speech at a church about the audit, he announced that “I want arrests, I want prosecutions, I want firing squads.”
Meanwhile, the NMAF is also involved in a recount of ballots that David Clements said was “the will of the community of Otero County," the Alamogordo Daily News reported last week. The group is also fundraising off the audit, soliciting money via a website run by pro-Trump attorney Lin Wood. In February, David Clements claimed that the fundraiser had made more than $20,000, and that it was soliciting $100,000.
Colón, the state auditor, said the canvassers’ conduct was exposing the county to potential legal action from residents.
“If you don’t have proper training, if you have volunteers and you don’t have guardrails in place for their behavior and engagement to the public, you expose the county to risk,” he said. “Risk for litigation and that means the taxpayers’ resources in Otero County are in jeopardy if there’s any findings of wrongdoing.”