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Definitive results on election night? Maybe not


Geri Sanchez handles absentee ballots at the Bernalillo County elections bureau warehouse in June. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

SANTA FE — Forget about election night. Voters might want to prepare for election week.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Trevor Potter, former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said Thursday that the expected influx of absentee ballots in the Nov. 3 general election could mean voters go to bed that night without knowing who won close races.

They spoke in an online event sponsored by New Mexico Ethics Watch, a nonpartisan watchdog group.

Toulouse Oliver said it’s routine for vote counting to continue well past Election Day. But usually there are so few outstanding ballots that the public doesn’t notice — because they won’t affect the outcome of races.

But the potential for a record-breaking number of absentee ballots could change that.

Absentee ballots turned in on Election Day — or that arrive with a 7 p.m. mail drop from the Postal Service — will be difficult to tabulate immediately on election night, she said.

“There will be outstanding ballots,” Toulouse Oliver said. “That’s a given.”

Potter, general counsel to John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns, said voters should prepare for similar delays in states throughout the country. The verification of absentee ballots is a normal part of the process and witnessed by outside observers, he said.

“They’re all the same ballots legally,” Potter said. “All have to be counted, and that will take some time.”

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