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Voters go to polls for today’s primary

Veleta Clay, left, votes at Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School in New Mexico’s primary election, Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Albuquerque, N.M. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Early voting for New Mexico’s primary election soared past 2014 levels, as hotly contested Democratic races – especially for governor and an open Albuquerque-area congressional seat – appeared to have captured voters’ attention.

However, it’s unclear whether that will translate into big Election Day turnout today, and candidates were busy Monday trying to cajole undecided voters into supporting their campaigns.

At stake today – polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. – are party nominations for governor, two open congressional seats and a slew of statewide offices. The winners advance to the November general election.

Statewide, 76,839 Democrats – or about 13.6 percent of those registered – cast ballots via early or absentee voting before early voting closed Saturday, according to the Secretary of State’s Office. That was up significantly from four years ago, when 47,282 Democrats voted before Election Day in that year’s gubernatorial primary race.

“It appears as though turnout in the Democratic primary is going to be higher than four years ago, but we’re still not dealing with astronomical turnout,” said longtime political observer Brian Sanderoff, president of Albuquerque-based Research & Polling Inc.

He said it’s unlikely total Democratic turnout will reach 30 percent, but it could top turnout in 2014, when 22 percent of registered Democrats cast ballots, and 2010, when 24 percent voted.

Much of this year’s early voting action took place in Bernalillo County, as 33,199 registered Democrats – or roughly 17.5 percent of those registered to vote – cast ballots before the close of early voting.

That’s likely been driven by two races: a three-way primary race for governor featuring U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, state Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Las Cruces and former media executive Jeff Apodaca of Albuquerque, and a five-way contest for the 1st Congressional District seat that Lujan Grisham is giving up to run for governor.

The active candidates in the race for the Albuquerque-area congressional seat are former Democratic Party Chairwoman Debra Haaland, former U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez, former law school professor and civil rights activist Antoinette Sedillo-Lopez, attorney Damian Lara and business executive Paul Moya.

The race has been marked by outside groups representing women, veterans, Native Americans and others spending more than $2 million on TV advertisements, mailers and other election-related expenditures.

There are also contested Democratic primary races for land commissioner, auditor, lieutenant governor, the Public Regulation Commission and several state House seats.

Although there are no contested statewide GOP primary races, four Republicans are competing for the party’s nomination to represent the southern New Mexico-based 2nd Congressional District. They are: State Rep. Yvette Herrell of Alamogordo, former state GOP Chairman Monty Newman of Hobbs, former U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs official Gavin Clarkson of Las Cruces and Clayburn Griffin of Lovington.

Incumbent Steve Pearce is forgoing a bid for re-election to that seat to run for governor, and there also two Democrats – Las Cruces water attorney Xochitl Torres Small and adjunct history professor Mad Hildebrandt of Socorro – running in the district.

Statewide, a total of 34,674 Republicans – or about 9.2 percent of those registered to vote – cast ballots this year via early and absentee voting.

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 parties’ candidates in the primary election.

“The data makes it clear that New Mexico voters want their voices to be heard,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, said of the early voting figures. “We saw a substantial increase in the number of voters choosing the early voting option compared to the last midterm primary election in 2014.”

Meanwhile, Colfax County Clerk Rayetta Trujillo said Monday that eligible primary voters displaced by the Ute Park Fire burning in northern New Mexico can cast provisional ballots today at the Raton Convention Center or at the Eagle Nest Convention Center. Those ballots will then be qualified and tallied after Election Day.