Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – The special election to fill a vacant Albuquerque-area congressional seat, which got underway this week with the start of early and absentee voting, is breaking new ground in New Mexico.
That’s because for the first time, qualified residents will be able to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day through Election Day.
The arrival of Election Day voter registration is due to a 2019 law that, per its terms, has been gradually phased in to give county clerks more time to prepare.
For the first two years after the law was enacted, voters could register to vote or change their registration up through the Saturday before Election Day.
“This is the first time voters have this opportunity to register to vote on Election Day,” said Mandy Vigil, the elections director for the Secretary of State’s Office, who acknowledged elections officials had not expected to have to implement the change so soon.
Previously, New Mexico had set a deadline to register to vote at 28 days before an election.
But Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who pushed for the change, argued recent technological advances – including a statewide voter database that can be updated in seconds – made such a deadline unnecessary.
She also said same-day voting registration might increase voter participation in a state that has received low ratings for political engagement, adding the state’s old law sometimes led to voters showing up to vote but being unable to cast ballots due to registration glitches.
To prepare for this year’s change, the Secretary of State’s office recently conducted a training with New Mexico county clerks and their staffers, Vigil said.
She also said the state has already been using the same voting systems since 2019, which should help minimize any technical issues.
In addition, same-day voter registration is only available in person at county clerks’ offices and certain early voting sites, as the 28-day deadline still applies to online and mail-based registration.
Nationwide, 21 states had enacted same-day voter registration laws as of last year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Along with New Mexico, both Utah and Colorado are also among the states that have adopted such laws.
But support of same-day voter registration isn’t unanimous, as some critics of the practice claim it can open the door to voter fraud.
Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, who voted against the bill in 2019, said setting the voter registration deadline before Election Day would still give voters plenty of time to make sure they are registered to vote.
“We already struggle on Election Day to get everything counted and turned in,” Baldonado told the Journal.
This year’s special election for the 1st Congressional District seat is necessary because Deb Haaland, a Democrat who was reelected to the seat last year, stepped down after being confirmed as U.S. interior secretary in March.
Four candidates have qualified for the special election ballot – Republican Mark Moores, Democrat Melanie Stansbury, Libertarian Chris Manning and independent Aubrey Dunn.
As of Thursday morning, just 923 registered voters had cast ballots in the race – 827 via in-person voting and 96 via absentee ballots.
Of the total amount, 614 votes were cast by registered Democrats and 218 were cast by registered Republicans. Unaffiliated voters, Libertarians and those affiliated with minor political parties made up the rest.
However, more than 18,000 absentee ballots had been requested by voters in the congressional district, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office.
The 1st Congressional District encompasses most of Albuquerque, all of Torrance County and small sections of surrounding counties.
Election Day for the special election is June 1.