School Board Voter Intimidation Allegations Surface

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Pablo Lujan

Española School Board member Pablo Lujan recognizes outgoing Board members during a meeting earlier this year. He said he doubts the New Mexico Office of the State Auditor’s investigation into two contracts awarded during his tenure as Board leader, will amount to anything because there was no wrongdoing.

Rio Arriba County officials have accused an Española School Board member and a candidate of allegedly intimidating and coercing voters at a polling site. Now, the state Office of the Attorney General is investigating the allegations.

According to a letter sent to the Secretary of State’s Office on Oct. 31, Board Member Pablo Lujan and Pablo Manzanares—who ran for Lujan’s seat on the Board—brought voters to the poll who were intoxicated and then attempted to help the voters fill their ballots.

County Bureau of Election Chief Michele Jordan wrote that Presiding Judge Heather Martinez, stationed at the Clerk’s Election warehouse located at the old Cariños de Los Niños Charter School, told Clerk’s Office employees she was concerned about Manzanares and Lujan “bringing individuals into vote that are intoxicated or under the influence of something.”

Lujan brought in the voter Gilbert Martinez and told poll workers he would help him vote, Jordan wrote. Heather Martinez then allegedly told Lujan that Gilbert Martinez would have to ask him for assistance before he could do so.

“Mr. Pablo Lujan then told the voter to ask him for help,” Jordan wrote in the email. “To avoid conflict at the polling location, the (presiding judge) went ahead and allowed Mr. Pablo Lujan to assist Mr. Gilbert Martinez after he was asked to ask for help by Mr. Lujan.”

The letter does not specify when the alleged incident occurred.

Martinez then witnessed Lujan telling voters to vote for Manzanares, while standing within 50 feet of the polling place, Jordan wrote.

State law prohibits anyone from campaigning within 100 feet of a polling place.

“Our (presiding judge) was concerned that it could be a form of voter intimidation,” Jordan wrote. “Our (presiding judge) stated that this is an ongoing issue with both individuals.”

County Clerk Linda Padilla said she had no comment on the situation other than to say her staff followed procedure.

“In the schools, the presiding judge had just been told if anything goes on they need to make a note on it and send it to Michele (Jordan) because she is the Bureau of Election chief,” Padilla said.

The Secretary of State’s Office Elections Director Mandy Vigil responded to Jordan’s letter on Nov. 1, writing that they would forward the complaint to the Attorney General.

“Based on the information provided it appears that the conduct may be inappropriate,” she wrote.

Office of the Attorney General spokesperson Matt Baca wrote in a statement that the allegations described in the letter are currently under review.

“The Attorney General takes any allegation of attempts to disrupt free and fair elections very seriously and will always take appropriate action to ensure the integrity of our elections,” he wrote.

Lujan said in a Nov. 1 phone call that Gilbert Martinez had called him to ask for help with his ballot prior to entering the polling site because of his poor eyesight.

“(Martinez) wasn’t intoxicated,” he said. “He said that he had vision problems and he asked me if I would be willing to help him vote.”

He also denied campaigning within 50 feet, saying that while he did talk to voters, it was not about the election.

“We were talking about piñon,” Lujan said.

He also said Heather Martinez never told him he was campaigning too close to the polling site.

When asked if he has ever campaigned for Manzanares, Lujan said the two have only discussed the open position on the Board a couple times.

Manzanares also denied helping other voters with their ballots, but said he had attempted to do so when bringing his cousins to the polling site.

One of his cousins, he said, needed help filling out his ballot because of his arthritis. Heather Martinez then told him he could not help with the ballot, at which point she assisted his cousin in filling out the ballot.

Manzanares said he does not know if Lujan supports his campaign, but confirmed the two have had conversations about the open position.

“I want his support,” he said.

In an Aug. 30 Facebook post, Lujan shared a link to Manzanares’s campaign page, with former Board member Patrick Herrera commenting, “Yes.”

Manzanares also said there was nothing wrong with taking family members to polling sites.

“Any candidate has the right to take his family in if they want to vote,” he said.

Secretary of State’s Office Communications Director Alex Curtas wrote in a Nov. 1 email that Manzanares had a previous complaint against him in September for allegedly not living in the correct district.

Jeremy Maestas, a County employee and fellow school board candidate, filed the complaint.

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