Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico voters eagerly seized their first chance to cast ballots in the 2020 presidential election, showing up even before polls opened Tuesday – the first day of absentee and in-person voting.
In Albuquerque, about 100 people stood in line – socially distanced, of course – before 8 a.m. at the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Annex near 15th and Lomas.
“It was clear down the block,” Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover said in an interview. “We have had a steady stream.”
She and other election officials throughout the state reported heavy turnout Tuesday, when counties opened their first in-person voting sites and absentee ballots went into the mail for the first time.
A broader set of early voting locations will be available Oct. 17.
Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda López Askin said longtime election workers in Las Cruces described Tuesday’s turnout as the heaviest they’ve seen for the first day of voting.
“The line has been wrapped around our very large building since we opened at 8 o’clock this morning,” López Askin said just before noon.
Lea County Clerk Keith Manes said about 300 people voted in person through late Tuesday afternoon, or 10 times more than usual for past elections. Voters showed up prepared, he said, having done their research ahead of time for the long ballot.
“It’s going to be the best turnout Lea County has ever had,” Manes said. “The interest is really good.”
The presidential contest is at the top of the ballot, but voters will also decide an open U.S. Senate race, pick three members for the House, fill every seat in the Legislature, and choose winners for a host of state, judicial and county offices. Two constitutional amendments – including a proposal to turn the Public Regulation Commission into an appointed body – and bond issues are also on the ballot.
Absentee balloting is off to a strong start. More than 321,000 voters in New Mexico have already requested absentee ballots – about 24% of registered voters.
Democrats make up a disproportionate share of the requests. They comprise about 62% of the requests so far, followed by Republicans at 21%. Libertarians, independents and others make up the rest.
Democrats make up 45% of all registered voters in New Mexico. About 31% of the state’s registered voters are Republican.
Only people who have requested an absentee ballot will get one in the mail. The deadline to apply is Oct. 20.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said this week that she and other election officials are preparing for an unprecedented influx of absentee ballots as voters opt for the safety of their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.
Her office has established a voter information portal – nmvote.org – where voters should be able to track their absentee ballot the way they do an Amazon package, with notations on whether their application has been accepted and when the ballot is mailed.
The Secretary of State Office’s website, which includes the online voter registration portal, was down for part of the day Tuesday.
A spokesman for the office said the cause of the outage, which was quickly fixed, was still being investigated.
Absentee ballots helped push turnout in New Mexico’s primary election to historic levels. The raw number of ballots cast in the June 2 election – about 418,000 – was a record, and the percentage of registered voters who participated – about 42% – was the most in at least 20 years.
“Elections this year have been in the spotlight probably in a way they never have before,” Toulouse Oliver said.
López Askin – whose county lies in the 2nd Congressional District, one of the most closely watched House races in the country – said her staff has seen an explosion of interest in absentee voting for the general election.
Four years ago, just 3,456 voters cast absentee ballots in Doña Ana County. But more than 26,000 voters had already requested absentee ballots through Tuesday morning.
Manes, in Lea County, and Stover, in Bernalillo County, reported similar increases.
Voters who have requested an absentee ballot – but not received it – can still vote in person. But they will have to sign an affidavit pledging not to vote absentee if the ballot arrives.
López Askin said county clerks can track anyone who tries to vote absentee after casting a ballot in person. Such cases will be referred to the district attorney, she said.
Journal Capitol Bureau Chief Dan Boyd contributed to this report.