Editorial: Congrats, NM, on record turnout, smooth counting - Albuquerque Journal

Editorial: Congrats, NM, on record turnout, smooth counting

When Americans woke up Wednesday, they still weren’t sure who had won the presidential election as ballots were still being tabulated in several pivotal states.

But New Mexico was not one of them.

Despite rhetoric raising concerns of absentee balloting fraud, untallied or discarded absentee ballots, a Postal Service overwhelmed with mailed ballots, vulnerable drop boxes, long lines that would discourage in-person voting and not enough polling sites in general, the election went smoothly in New Mexico.

By 7:34 a.m. Wednesday, the Secretary of State’s Office posted final unofficial results of every race in the state. While about 2,000 absentee ballots remained to be counted Wednesday afternoon, a spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said around 95% of all ballots were tabulated by midnight Tuesday.

That was quite a feat considering the record-setting 912,565 total ballots cast statewide – eclipsing the previous record, set in the 2008 general election, by 79,000 votes. Way to show up and turn out, New Mexico voters!

Wednesday’s smooth election and early tally wouldn’t have been possible without the state’s 33 county clerks and their staffs, which are the backbone of elections. Ditto for all the poll workers who stepped up after a shortage delayed things in the June primaries. All are to be commended for handling the 2020 general election professionally and efficiently.

Kudos to Toulouse Oliver for leading election reform efforts. And a supporting-actor award goes to our state Legislature, which through a 2019 statute allows counties that send out 10,000 or more absentee ballots to begin processing them 14 days before Election Day. Counties that mail out fewer than 10,000 absentee ballots can start processing them five days before Election Day. And although by law results are not counted until polls close at 7 p.m. election night, the early start proved to be a game-changer.

By contrast, poll workers in Pennsylvania weren’t allowed to open absentee ballots until 7 a.m. Election Day. The delays are reminiscent of New Mexico elections past, when our state was among the last to have final results because of technical difficulties, inefficient systems, poll workers hauling boxes of results home, exhausted poll workers being sent home, etc.

A new law directed New Mexico poll workers responsible for counting absentee ballots to stop at 11 p.m. Tuesday to avoid errors from fatigue. While at first glance that rankled some because it meant a delayed vote count, it actually worked just fine, because the process didn’t stop at 11 p.m. Other poll workers continued working, and county clerks uploaded results to the SOS throughout the night.

By 7:34 a.m. Wednesday, the tallying had almost concluded, with 1,925 of 1,925 precincts fully reporting results – minus the 2,000 uncounted absentee ballots. SOS spokesman Alex Curtas says a computer server problem caused a 20- to 30-minute pause of absentee-ballot counting in Doña Ana County on Tuesday, but no other major delays were reported.

Not bad, not bad at all – and in a pandemic, to boot.

“It was a late night, but not as late an many thought it would be,” Curtas says. “The counties definitely stepped up; they were just really efficient both before Election Day and election night getting those results tabulated.”

Curtas said there were no major reports of voter intimidation, violence, destruction at the polls or exceedingly long lines. With around 456,000 early and in-person ballots and 327,000 absentee ballots cast, only 130,000 New Mexicans voted in-person on Election Day, avoiding the crush of voters and potential superspreader coronavirus concerns many worried about.

All in all, New Mexico proved well-prepared for election night. The credit belongs to the hardworking poll staffers across the state, their county clerks and strong leadership from the SOS and state lawmakers.

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.

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