ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) â€” With George W. Bush holding a tiny 17-vote lead over Al Gore in New Mexico, state police have begun impounding ballots from Tuesday's election in case they're needed for recounts or review later.
The police action comes after GOP lawyers asked the courts to order protection for early voting and absentee ballots cast statewide.
``It's not to impound all the ballots, but all the paper ballots â€” the early voting and absentee,'' said attorney Mickey Barnett, a Republican official in Albuquerque.
He said he and lawyer Duncan Scott planned to file impoundment petitions in all of New Mexico's 13 judicial districts Monday to impound ballots within their jurisdictions.
``There's no allegation whatsoever in this impoundment issue that there's any fraud or anything,'' Barnett said. ``I think it's much more pro-forma than suspicion. I'd just like to know two weeks from now, if something does happen, that they (the ballots) are all there.''
So far, he said, there have been no challenges or calls for a recount.
State police Sgt. Royleen Ross-Weaver said officers already have begun impounding ballots in Catron, Sierra and Socorro counties under orders from state District Judge Edmund Kase.
State Democratic chairwoman Diane Denish said she had no comment but would like to know who paid the fees for the impoundment petitions.
She said she believed the cost would amount to $25 per precinct, for a total cost of $37,500. She wanted to know if the Republican Party was paying.
Barnett said the impoundment bid was not motivated by any particular race, but the presidential election was among those that were of concern.
Republican Bush moved into a 17-vote lead over Democrat Gore in New Mexico as 355 damage ballots were hand-counted Friday.