Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Even with about 10 more days to go, New Mexico voters have already cast three times as many absentee ballots as they did four years ago – a sign they’re responding to the call to avoid in-person voting.
Candidates and election officials throughout the state have been urging New Mexicans to cast absentee ballots as a way to stay safe amid the pandemic and avoid spreading the coronavirus.
“Just the numbers tell you they’ve listened to us,” Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover said in an interview Friday.
Democrats appear to be shifting their participation more sharply than Republicans, but both parties are casting far more absentee ballots than usual in the June 2 primary election.
More than 53,000 Democrats have returned absentee ballots so far, or about 3.8 times as many as they cast in the entire 2016 primary, the most recent presidential election, according to state records. Republican absentee ballots – 22,903 so far – are up 2.5 times from 2016.
Libertarians didn’t participate in the 2016 primary, so there’s no baseline for their comparison.
Brian Sanderoff, an election analyst and president of Research & Polling Inc. in Albuquerque, said the mailing of absentee ballot applications to eligible voters – a step mandated by the state Supreme Court – is a likely factor in the increase. At the least, he said, it reminded voters of the option to vote from home.
For years, Sanderoff said, New Mexico voters have been shifting more of their balloting to the weeks before Election Day. But now absentee balloting is surging, rather than casting ballots at early voting locations.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that voters are taking advantage of voting absentee, by mail, in order to avoid voting in person,” Sanderoff said Friday.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat, is encouraging voters who want to mail in their ballots to do it by Friday next week. Voters can also deliver their ballot by hand to their county clerk’s office or precinct by 7 p.m. June 2.
Stover, a Democrat, said people can still consider in-person voting. Election workers are wearing masks, she said, and the county is sanitizing voting locations frequently.
“It’s probably one of the safest places to be in town,” Stover said.
But she said she is thankful for the number of people who have voted absentee. Bernalillo County has mailed out more than 101,000 ballots so far, and voters have returned almost 34,000.
In the 2016 primary, just over 10,000 people voted absentee in Bernalillo County.
In Doña Ana County, Chief Deputy Clerk Lindsey Bachman said her office boosted the size of its absentee precinct board – community members of different parties – to help handle the influx of absentee ballots. The county has also worked with state agencies, she said, to secure supplies of personal protective equipment for election staffers.
The deadline to apply for an absentee ballot, Bachman said, is Thursday next week. Voters can request an absentee ballot and track the status of the ballot at NMVote.org.
“We are asking eligible voters interested in voting via absentee ballots to submit their applications well in advance of the application deadline and return their completed ballots shortly after receiving them,” Bachman said in a written statement.
More than 101,000 votes statewide have been cast so far this year, including 76,000 absentee votes and 25,000 in-person votes at early voting locations.
Only Democrats, Libertarians and Republicans – the state’s major parties – can vote in the primary. The winning candidates advance to the Nov. 3 general election.
This year’s ballot includes races for the U.S. Senate and House, all 112 seats in the Legislature and a variety of county offices.
“We are encouraging folks not to wait until the last minute,” Bachman said.