One of the midterm’s most stubborn House races is still too close to call

In the past, a Republican incumbent won this New Mexico district by over 60 percent, but Democrat Xochitl Torres Small has closed the gap.


This story was originally published by and is republished here with permission.

No matter what other news organizations say, the race to replace Steve Pearce in the U.S. House isn’t over.

The Albuquerque Journal, CNN, NBCKOB-TV in Albuquerque, the Associated Press, the Las Cruces Sun-News, the Alamogordo Daily News, the Carlsbad Current ArgusNew Mexico In Depth, Joe Monahan and others declared Republican Yvette Herrell the winner of the race late Tuesday. And they did it too soon.

Here’s why.

The race remained up in the air overnight because the Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office took a break in counting absentee ballots, leaving about 4,000 to count beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The results of all of the county’s 7,885 absentee ballots have to be posted online at once, which means none of them have been posted publicly yet. The latest public results, which have counted all votes except those Doña Ana County absentee ballots and any provisional ballots cast throughout the congressional district, have Republican Yvette Herrell leading Democrat Xochitl Torres Small by 1,986 votes, 50.53 percent to 49.47 percent.

Democratic Congressional Candidate Xochitl Torres Small meets potential constituents at Socorro Chile Fest.
Sarai Bejarano

Torres Small has won 62.09 percent of the vote in Doña Ana County thus far. So let’s do some math: If Torres Small wins 62.09 percent of the 7,885 absentee votes remaining, she wins 4,896 of those votes — and that puts her at 97,338 votes. That would leave Herrell with 2,989 of Doña Ana County’s absentee ballots, and put her at 97,417 votes overall.

That would mean Herrell leads by 79 votes out of 194,755 ballots cast. That’s a lead of just 0.04 percent for Herrell. State law mandates an automatic recount at 0.25 percent.

And on top of that, there are approximately 1,000 provisional ballots in Doña Ana County to consider, Clerk Amanda López Askin told me at 1:45 a.m. on Wednesday.

She’s the one who made the judgment early Wednesday to delay the counting of the additional ballots until 10 a.m. in a race that’s getting national attention. López Askin indicated that the board counting absentee ballots — which had been working all day Tuesday — had only gotten through half of them by almost midnight.

“It was of utmost importance that the process of counting absentee ballots be above-board, and people that have worked for 14-15 hours straight, it’s inevitable that errors are going to be made,” she said, “and so we had to suspend to make sure that we did not compromise any of the process.”

New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District race, which was featured as a top race to watch nationally on Election Day in a New York Times podcast, remains outstanding even as Democrats won control of the House on Tuesday.

Republican Congressional Candidate Yvette Herrell meets potential constituents in late October.
Courtesy the Yvette Herrell for Congress campaign

The race might have swung definitively in Herrell’s favor on Wednesday, but there was a late voting surge in Doña Ana County, which went heavily for Torres Small.

On Tuesday evening, as votes came in, Herrell led early as votes from southeastern New Mexico were counted first. But Torres Small cut into Herrell’s lead of several thousand votes throughout Tuesday evening. She cut that lead to 2,344 votes, or about 1.75 percent, at about 12:45 a.m. on Wednesday, and then 1,986 votes, or 1.56 percent, shortly thereafter.

Seeing the uncertainty, Torres Small announced at 11:15 p.m. on Tuesday, after some news outlets had declared Herrell the winner, that she wasn’t conceding yet.

“It’s just not right at this time to cut that short,” Torres Small said in a brief appearance before supporters at the Las Cruces Convention Center. “That is why we are waiting until every person’s voice is heard.”

At that point Herrell had already declared victory. The unashamed supporter of President Donald Trump won 72 percent of the vote in Lea County, 67 percent of the vote in Eddy County, 63 percent in Chaves County and 60 percent in Otero County.

Herrell had bet on support for Trump being a winning message in the district. In a New York Times poll of the race conducted from Oct. 19-23, Herrell led by only one point — but 51 percent said they approved of Trump to 45 percent who did not, and 50 percent said they preferred Republicans keep control of the U.S. House, while 44 percent said they prefer Democrats take control.

Herrell, unlike Torres Small, wasn’t waiting for all the votes to be counted. She declared victory before 11 p.m. on Tuesday. According to KOB-TV in Albuquerque, she thanked voters, at her victory party in Alamogordo, for “keeping New Mexico moving in the right direction in terms of holding on to our conservative voice.”

“It’s a good thing for the district that I like to talk,” Herrell said. “Because I am going to be talking about New Mexico shared values for the next two years.”

“Chapter two starts tomorrow,” Herrell said, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News. “Everything we had to do was trust God. Our message was our seat was not for sale. It was so amazing. I am so honored and grateful. We have a state so amazing. We’ve got values that are meaningful to each of us and families. We’re going to carry those values to Washington, D.C.”

Perhaps the absentee ballots in Doña Ana County will provide some clarity on Wednesday. If not, the district’s provisional ballots will in the coming days.

Heath Haussamen is the editor and publisher of Submit a letter to the editor

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