Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – New Mexico began absentee and early voting for the June 7 primary election on Tuesday as wildfires filled the air with smoke and forced the relocation of at least one polling site.
Election administrators also said they are preparing contingency plans as mandatory evacuations hit more communities. They also encouraged people to vote early.
In Mora County, the clerk’s office moved its polling location to Wagon Mound, a village about an hour’s drive from the county seat. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver also encouraged voters in San Miguel, Los Alamos, Taos and Sandoval counties to vote as soon as they can, in case fires disrupt government services.
At more than 200,000 acres, the Calf Canyon/Hermits Peak Fire northwest of Las Vegas, New Mexico, is the largest now burning in the United States. Another fire – the Cerro Pelado Fire in the Jemez Mountains – is also threatening parts of northern New Mexico.
“We’re asking our community members to be prepared and start planning – make a voting plan – so they’re not caught unexpectedly if we have to evacuate,” Los Alamos County Clerk Naomi Maestas said in an interview.
The warnings come as New Mexico enters the crucial four weeks before election day. Voters in next month’s primary are choosing nominees for governor, attorney general and all 70 seats in the state House, in addition to local races.
County clerks throughout the state on Tuesday began mailing absentee ballots to voters who requested them. Each of the 33 counties is also offering an early-voting site for people who want to cast a ballot in person.
Expanded early-voting sites go into effect May 21.
While absentee voting numbers surged during the initial phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, turnout is off to a slow start this year.
Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover said her office mailed out all 2,600 ballots that had been requested Tuesday – a figure more in line with a municipal election than a statewide primary.
“So far,” she said, “it’s not a good amount, in my opinion. We’re going to have to try to get the message out on that.”
Stover is taking an “all-of-the-above” approach to turnout, encouraging voters to cast a ballot in whatever way is most convenient.
This year’s primary election is the first that will allow New Mexico independent voters to participate, if they change their affiliation at the polls to register with a major party.
Independent and minor party voters are free to show up at a voting location and register with the major party they want to cast a ballot for.
Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians – the state’s three major parties – cannot, however, switch affiliation at the polls to participate in a primary.
Toulouse Oliver said voters who have left home because of the wildfires are free to have an absentee ballot mailed to their current location.
The last day to request an absentee ballot is June 2.
“Though the situation with the fires is rapidly evolving,” Toulouse Oliver said, “my office and election administrators throughout the state have already deployed plans to help communities vote and are in the process of developing further contingencies to ensure all voter needs continue to be met.”