Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – At least 1,300 absentee ballots in New Mexico arrived too late to be counted in the primary election – a figure expected to grow as the Postal Service continues delivering ballots each day.
State law prohibits county clerks from tabulating any ballots that arrive after 7 on election night, when polls close.
In Bernalillo County, 1,046 ballots came in the mail too late to be counted, according to the clerk’s office. Another 316 arrived late in Santa Fe County.
“I imagine we’ll get ballots all week,” Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover said, “and it’s really too bad.”
A statewide total isn’t available yet, but it could exceed 3,000 if the trend in Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties shows up in other parts of the state.
Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause New Mexico, an advocacy group for voting rights, said she hopes state legislators will revise state law to reduce the number of uncounted ballots in future elections.
“Regardless of party,” Ferguson said, “these are issues that are the foundational principles of our democracy. You have too many folks in the last primary who were disenfranchised.”
One option, she said, would be to allow the counting of ballots that are postmarked by Election Day, but arrive later. Envelopes containing absentee ballots could have intelligent bar codes, Ferguson said, allowing voters and election officials to track a ballot as it moves through the mail system.
The state could also adjust the deadline for voters to request an absentee ballot, with the goal of ensuring people receive their ballots in time to mail them back.
Ferguson said she hopes Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and lawmakers will address the voting procedures in a special session expected to start a week from Thursday.
Lujan Grisham plans to call legislators to the Capitol to revise the state budget and take other action to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the governor, said voting procedures are a possible agenda item. The goal, she said, is to focus on legislation that requires immediate action and can’t wait until the next regular session in January.
“Voting procedures and ensuring New Mexicans can safely and securely and fully participate in the fall election,” Sackett said, “are one of many items that could be considered part of that, but, again, it’s still being formulated.”
At least some absentee ballots arrive late every year. But it could be a particular problem this year because voters turned so heavily to absentee ballots as a way to vote safely from home amid the pandemic.
About 42% of eligible voters – 422,008 people – cast ballots in last week’s primary election – the highest turnout percentage in at least 20 years.
In the final days before the election, officials throughout the state urged voters to drop off absentee ballots in person rather than risk putting them in the mail.