Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE – Voter turnout has already reached 32% – or more than 439,000 votes cast – as New Mexico heads into a critical midterm election that will determine whether Republicans hold on to a newly redrawn congressional seat and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wins a tough reelection campaign.
This year’s turnout patterns so far look similar to a corresponding point in the 2018 election cycle, but with one exception: The popularity of absentee voting has exploded.
New Mexico county clerks have already received almost 86,000 absentee ballots this year – a 25% increase over the 2018 total, even a day before the election. Completed absentee ballots can still be turned in to poll workers on Election Day.
Voting by mail, especially among Democrats, took off in 2020, the first year of the pandemic.
“People like absentee – it’s easy for them,” Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine Clark said Monday.
But even with help from mail-in votes, it isn’t clear this year’s turnout will reach 2018 levels, when about 56% of registered voters cast ballots in New Mexico.
Brian Sanderoff, president of Research & Polling Inc., said the number of ballots cast so far suggest New Mexico’s turnout will likely climb above 50% – with the 2018 rate “a good number to strive for.”
But midterm elections sometimes draw much fewer voters. In 2014, for example, about 40% of New Mexico’s registered voters cast ballot.
“Having more than half the people vote in a non-presidential election cycle is decent turnout,” Sanderoff said.
Traveling the state
In the governor’s race, the leading candidates spent the last day before Election Day barnstorming across New Mexico.
Republican Mark Ronchetti, who is challenging the incumbent Democratic governor, held campaign rallies in Los Alamos, Santa Fe and Albuquerque to wrap up a 42-stop RV tour over the last 10 days.
“We have all the momentum, and we’re going to win,” Ronchettti told the Journal.
Lujan Grisham, for her part, spent most of Monday in northern New Mexico, with stops at Casa Benavidez in Taos and Charlie’s Spic & Span Cafe in Las Vegas, in an attempt to energize Democratic supporters in advance of Election Day.
She was then scheduled to join other Democratic candidates for a final pre-election rally in Albuquerque on Monday evening.
The governor’s reelection campaign was touted last week by President Joe Biden, who made a brief stopover in New Mexico and said “no one is going to fight harder for this state” than Lujan Grisham.
The race for governor is shaping up to be one of the most expensive races in state history, as Lujan Grisham has raised over $12 million this election cycle and Ronchetti has exceeded $9 million. Libertarian Karen Bedonie trails far behind in fundraising but could end up being a factor in the race.
Meanwhile, outside groups have also spent hefty amounts of money on the contest, with national Democratic and Republican governors groups flooding the TV airwaves with a barrage of hard-hitting attack ads.
Last chance to vote
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday – the final 12 hours of voting for the general election.
In Bernalillo County, 72 polling places will be available, and voters can cast a ballot at any location.
“There’s one probably within three or four miles of wherever they are,” Bernalillo County Deputy Clerk Jaime Diaz said Monday.
He and other election administrators throughout New Mexico advised voters planning to cast their ballot Tuesday to be prepared.
They suggested checking out sample ballots – available at nmvote.org – and making a plan ahead of time.
“If you’re familiar with how you’re going to vote when you get here,” Lea County Clerk Keith Manes said, “it’s going to take a lot less time.”
In Santa Fe County, the clerk’s office website will have wait times and other information listed for polling locations operating on Election Day.
It’s usually 20 minutes or less, Clark said, but the differences among sites can be substantial, with the fairgrounds and downtown locations often the busiest.
Diaz said the busiest times of day tend to be first thing in the morning as people vote before work, around 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. when people take their lunch break and at the end of the day, from about 4:30 p.m. on.
Overall, about 32% of the state’s 1.4 million voters have cast ballots so far, either absentee or at early voting places. At a similar point in the 2018 cycle, about 34% of voters had cast a ballot.
Clark said about 47% of registered voters in Santa Fe County have already cast their ballot, the second highest rate in the state.
“We’ve got a pretty solid percentage of the vote in,” she said.
Manes said Lea County is “right on target” for its typical midterm election of participation of between 40% and 45%.
“But we’re really pushing for a bigger turnout,” he said.
This year’s ballot is a long one.
Voters who have not yet cast their ballots can expect to see races for Congress, six statewide executive offices, two seats on the state Supreme Court and two on the Court of Appeals, a legislative seat, local offices and questions, three proposed constitutional amendments and three state bond issues.
New Mexico is also poised to play a critical role in which party controls the U.S. House.
The newly redrawn 2nd Congressional District – where Republican Yvette Herrell faces Democrat Gabe Vasquez for reelection – is among the dozen or so most competitive races that could serve as a tipping point for the House majority.
The district stretches from parts of Albuquerque into the oil patch in southeastern New Mexico.
Democrats Melanie Stansbury of Albuquerque and Teresa Leger Fernández are also seeking reelection to the U.S. House.
Albuquerque, meanwhile, is set to serve as a battleground as Republicans seek gains in the Legislature. Democrats now hold a 45-24-1 majority in the state House of Representatives, with all 70 seats in the chamber on the ballot this year.
Voters this year also will determine whether to authorize heftier withdrawals out of New Mexico’s largest permanent fund to expand spending on early childhood education and public schools.