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Editorial: Drop boxes are a safe, smart option for pandemic voting

With a majority of New Mexicans again expected to vote via absentee ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with our Postal Service facing serious budget woes, adding secured containers for absentee ballot drop-off is a great example of responsive governance.

The Secretary of State’s Office says county clerks should, at minimum, have drop boxes at every voting location. Though not mandatory, all 33 New Mexico county clerks should provide them. It’s a no-brainer, no-cost option reimbursed by $6 million in federal pandemic relief funds.

Drop boxes will minimize person-to-person contact and hopefully prevent a repeat of the June primary, when an estimated 3,000 absentee ballots were mailed to county clerks too late to be counted on Election Day.

Every vote should be counted, in every election. The more who vote, the more who are invested in the results, the democratic process, their community, their state and their country.

In an effort to avoid a repeat, an emergency change to the election code allows county clerks to mail out absentee ballot applications sooner. The application deadline to request an absentee ballot has also been moved up, to Oct. 20.

In the June primary, voters were allowed to request absentee ballots until the Thursday before the election. That created havoc, with voters urged to drop off their ballots at polling sites rather than risk mailing them in too late.

The drop boxes, under a 2019 state law, can be installed outside traditional polling places. County clerks are required to publicly disclose their locations in advance and adhere to strict security guidelines. A memo from Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver stipulates constant supervision of the drop boxes by at least two county staffers or election workers and daily ballot removal. In addition, the drop boxes should either be bolted down or easily moved to a secure location when not in use. While the notion of padlocks on drop boxes in crime-ridden Albuquerque has been the butt of jokes on talk radio, it appears election officials have the bases covered.

It’s anticipated most drop boxes will be at polling places and county clerks’ offices. Absentee voting begins statewide Oct. 6, also the last day unregistered voters may register by mail or online at Early in-person voting begins Oct. 17 and runs through Oct. 31.

Voters may drop off completed absentee ballots starting Oct. 6 at county clerk’s offices and available drop boxes, at early voting convenience centers starting Oct. 17 or simply mail them back postage-free. Ballots can also be dropped off at any polling location in your county on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Absentee voting rates skyrocketed during the June primary, when a record 264,793 voters used the method – or about 63.4% of all votes cast. With nearly two-thirds of New Mexicans choosing absentee voting in the primary, clearly there’s a desire among many to avoid crowds at the polls.

Interest in this year’s elections is high, evidenced by the 42% turnout for the June primary when a record 422,000 New Mexicans cast ballots. Political pollster Brian Sanderoff says the turnout showed voters were eager to take advantage of the easier method. And fears Republican voters wouldn’t warm up to absentee balloting proved unfounded, as the total number of GOP absentee ballots cast shot up 44% compared to the 2016 primary.

In addition to a high-profile presidential race, all 112 legislative seats and various judicial and county-level offices are up for election. Ballots are also packed with important multimillion-dollar bond and judicial retention elections and two constitutional amendments.

The Journal will feature Q&As and biographies of candidates in contested races, along with district maps and Journal Editorial Board endorsements; all can be viewed in early October at as early voting begins. Voters are encouraged to do their research. There’s a lot to digest. Being able to deliberate at home with absentee ballot nearby, then drop it off at a secured drop box positions our state for record turnout.

And no matter who wins each race, making it easier, safer and more secure to participate in our democratic process is a win for New Mexico’s voters.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.