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Tuesday, October 19, 2004
County's Early-Polling Places 'Slammed' With Voters, Calls
By Dan McKay and Andy Lenderman
Journal Staff Writers
Thousands of early voters are flooding the polls and overwhelming the clerk's office telephone lines in Bernalillo County, the state's largest.
"We've been slammed with voters, slammed with calls," Bernalillo County Clerk Mary Herrera said Monday.
Herrera said she has 30 staff members answering phones continuously all day and some callers still were unable to get through.
About 7,500 people have voted early in-person so far in Bernalillo County, Herrera said. Her office has mailed out about 52,000 absentee ballots, already exceeding the total from 2002, she said.
About 4,200 people cast ballots at early in-person voting sites in Bernalillo County on Saturday, more than three times as many as had done so at the same point in the 2002 election, Herrera said. Two-hour lines were reported at one site.
With two weeks left before the Nov. 2 election, heavy early in-person and absentee voting was reported statewide.
In southeast New Mexico, "We've already voted 15 percent of our registered voters," reported Rhoda Goodloe, chief deputy clerk of Chaves County.
Early in-person voting at county clerk's offices began statewide Oct. 5, as well as absentee voting by mail. Early in-person voting at satellite locations other than county clerk offices began Saturday.
"We've had a steady stream of people all day," Goodloe said Monday by telephone. "They want to make sure their ballots get counted in case the weather gets bad or in case something unexpected happens."
The east side of the state was hit with a snowstorm on Election Day in 2000 and many people believed it kept turnout down.
Democrat Al Gore ended up carrying New Mexico over George W. Bush that year by the narrowest vote-margin in the country 366 votes. The contest this year between President Bush and Sen. John F. Kerry also is close, according to Journal polls.
Goodloe said her office has mailed out 2,900 absentee ballots so far this general election and 2,021 people have voted in person.
Not everything has gone smoothly.
Ingrid Bober, who lives in North Albuquerque Acres, said she waited in line for more than two hours Saturday to cast a ballot at an early voting site in Northeast Albuquerque. She said she never voted because election workers said she wasn't on the list of registered voters.
Bober said a campaign worker registered her to vote at Cottonwood Mall in February. She now believes that worker never turned in her card, possibly because she is a Republican. In fact, Bober said, the worker who wore an ACORN button joked about Bober being a Republican.
"I'm very upset about it," she said Monday. "I feel very disenfranchised."
ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, was a major force in registration drives this year, signing up more than 35,000 voters statewide.
Head Organizer Matthew Henderson of ACORN said the nonpartisan group never conducted a registration drive at Cottonwood.
"Furthermore, we registered thousands upon thousands of Republican voters. Anyone at the clerk's office who processed our cards can tell you that," Henderson said.
Bober also said an election workers told her Saturday that a provisional ballot wasn't available for her to vote on.
Herrera disputed that. She said provisional ballots are available at every voting location.
The Bernalillo County Clerk's Office, meanwhile, still has about 3,000 registration forms to enter into the computer database of voters. But those voters will still be allowed to cast in-person ballots early, Herrera said.
"We have not turned anybody away," Herrera said.
Herrera also said she hasn't yet received other complaints from voters fearful that their registration forms weren't turned in by voter registration groups.
Meanwhile, Herrera said she is talking with the phone company about expanding the capacity of her office to take incoming calls at least so a recording can be added telling people to hold. Right now, the callers just get no answer if phones lines are busy, Herrera said.
The state Bureau of Elections received complaints Monday from people who could not get telephone calls through to Herrera's office, director Denise Lamb said.
In San Juan County, Clerk Fran Hanhardt reported early and absentee voting has already broken the 2000 record. As of Monday, 3,190 people voted in-person and 5,433 absentee ballots were mailed out.
Santa Fe County Clerk Rebecca Bustamante also reported "very heavy" voter turnout so far. About 21,000 people have voted early or have been sent absentee ballots, she said.
In 2000, 31 percent of all voters statewide voted early in person or absentee, state Bureau of Election director Lamb said.
"It's just an enormous number of people," Lamb said.
Also Monday, partisan tension broke into the open outside the Republican Party of New Mexico headquarters on Osuna NE.
The chairmen of the state Republican and Democratic parties, Allen Weh and John Wertheim, held dueling news conferences there and both men alleged voter intimidation.
Journal staff writer Joshua Akers contributed to this report.