Turnout high in early voting for primary

SANTA FE – Hotly contested Democratic primary races for an open Albuquerque-area congressional seat and governor appear to be boosting early voting figures – especially in Bernalillo County.

Already, a total of 19,159 Democratic voters had cast ballots via early and absentee voting in New Mexico’s most populous county as of Wednesday, according to the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office.

That’s more than the number of Democrats – a total of 16,476 – who ended up voting early or absentee for governor in Bernalillo County in the primary election in 2014, when the state held its most recent election for governor.

And there’s still three more days before early voting for this year’s primary election ends on June 2.

“This really shows how competitive campaigns mobilize people,” University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said. “A good fight is always interesting.”

However, she cautioned that brisk early voting figures are not a guarantee of high overall voter turnout, as an increasing share of voters in recent years have been casting their ballots before Election Day.

Two of New Mexico’s three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are open this year, as incumbents Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, and Steve Pearce, a Republican, are both forgoing re-election bids to run for governor.

As a result, there are six Democrats on the ballot for the Albuquerque-based 1st Congressional District seat currently held by Lujan Grisham. One of those Democrats, Albuquerque City Councilor Pat Davis, abandoned his campaign this week and endorsed fellow candidate Debra Haaland.

The winner of the June 5 primary election will face Republican Janice Arnold-Jones and Libertarian Lloyd Princeton in the November general election.

In the governor’s race, Lujan Grisham is competing with state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and former media executive Jeff Apodaca of Albuquerque for the Democratic Party’s nomination. Whoever wins the nomination will run against Pearce, who is unopposed in the primary, this fall.

There are also contested Democratic primaries for state auditor, land commissioner and lieutenant governor.

Meanwhile, the lack of any contested statewide GOP primary races – there is a four-way Republican contest in the southern-New Mexico based 2nd Congressional District – appears to have stifled voter turnout among registered Republicans.

In Bernalillo County, only 7,315 of the 26,544 registered voters who had cast ballots via early and absentee voting as of Wednesday were Republicans, according to the County Clerk’s Office.

Under New Mexico’s closed primary system, only voters affiliated with major political parties – Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians in this year’s election cycle – can cast ballots for their party’s candidates in the primary election.

Statewide, those voting early or absentee to date were 40,118 Democrats, 20,588 Republicans and 142 Libertarians, according to figures released Wednesday by the Secretary of State’s Office.

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