With Election Day in sight, NM absentee ballot planning underway - Albuquerque Journal

With Election Day in sight, NM absentee ballot planning underway

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SANTA FE – New Mexico county clerks in 10 counties – including Bernalillo, Sandoval, Doña Ana and Santa Fe – have notified the Secretary of State’s Office they intend to start sending absentee ballot applications to all registered voters in their counties next month.

Voting by mail will likely play a key role in the November general election due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, and county clerks can decide whether to send absentee ballot applications to voters under a special session bill signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in June.

They are not required to do so, however, and five county clerks – in Rio Arriba, McKinley, Mora, Luna and Hidalgo counties – have told Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver’s office they do not plan to send out the applications, which have to be submitted by voters for an absentee ballot to be mailed to them.

The remaining 18 county clerks had not yet responded to the Secretary of State’s Office about their plans as of last week.

Some of those clerks could still decide to send out the applications, Secretary of State’s Office spokesman Alex Curtas said.

He also said county clerks who do send out absentee ballot applications can begin doing so Sept. 14, though the first day the absentee ballots can be sent to voters is Oct. 6.

Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, who co-sponsored the bill that makes temporary changes to this year’s general election, said some New Mexico voters ended up frustrated after their primary election ballots ended up being delivered to county clerks too late to be counted.

“If we can front-load some of this administrative stuff that helps get people a ballot, then we should do that,” Ivey-Soto said Tuesday.

Absentee voting rates skyrocketed during the June primary, after top-ranking state Democrats urged voters to mail in their ballots to reduce person-to-person contact during the pandemic.

In all, a record 264,793 New Mexico voters used the method to cast their ballots – or about 63.4% of all votes cast.

Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda López Askin said voters have already been asking about absentee voting options for the Nov. 3 election.

“We just want to give voters the most options to cast their ballots,” López Askin told the Journal.

She also cited a change in the special session elections bill that will move the application deadline for requesting an absentee ballot to 10 days before Election Day, instead of five days, in an attempt to reduce the number of ballots that are returned too late to be counted.

While most absentee ballots are returned by mail, they can also be hand-delivered to county clerks’ offices and polling places starting Oct. 6.

Curtas also said the Secretary of State’s Office will be launching a pilot program of absentee ballot drop boxes for the general election but said the exact locations of those drop boxes has not been determined.

Meanwhile, he also said absentee ballot applications sent out by a third-party group, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit group called Center for Voter Information, are legitimate.

“They are using an acceptable form that voters in New Mexico can submit to their county clerks and get an absentee ballot,” Curtas said.

The group faced criticism after reportedly sending out more than 500,000 absentee ballot applications to Virginia voters with erroneous return addresses.

In New Mexico, the group has sent out absentee applications to nearly one-third of the state’s registered voters – 399,733 out of roughly 1.3 million – and about 30,000 of those voters have submitted the applications to their county clerks.

Statewide registered voters will also be able to request absentee ballots on the secretary of state’s website, Curtas said, but county clerks will send only one ballot per registered voter regardless of how many applications are submitted.

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