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Early voting in New Mexico primaries ends today

Cristina Vasquez votes in an early voting center at 6500 Holly NE on Friday. Early voting for Tuesday's primary election ends today. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

Cristina Vasquez votes in an early voting center at 6500 Holly NE on Friday. Early voting for Tuesday’s primary election ends today. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE – Today is the last day of early voting for New Mexico’s primary election on Tuesday, and the early turnout is already significantly higher than the last couple of presidential-year elections.

According to numbers released Friday by Secretary of State Brad Winter’s office, more than 88,000 New Mexicans had cast their votes at early voting sites by the end of the day on Thursday.

That’s well ahead of the early voting numbers recorded in the 2012 and 2008 primaries.

“We’re definitely seeing much more robust early voting turnout,” said Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who oversees elections in the state’s most populous county.

Primary voters – registered Republicans and Democrats only – have been able to vote in county clerks’ offices since May 10. That was expanded as of May 21 to other early voting sites around the state. There are 126 of them, including the 33 county clerks’ offices.

After they close this evening – times vary by county – voters will have to wait until 7 a.m. on Election Day to cast ballots at New Mexico’s nearly 600 polling places.

The two-day lull, required by law, gives county clerks an opportunity to prepare the final voter rosters and get the vote-tallying and other equipment to polling places for Tuesday’s voting, state elections director Kari Fresquez said.

Absentee ballots, meanwhile, must arrive in the mail at clerks’ offices by Tuesday, or be dropped off at clerks’ offices or at a voter’s polling place on Tuesday.

According to figures from the Secretary of State’s Office, 88,009 people had voted early through Thursday, 58,842 Democrats and 29,167 Republicans.

In 2012, a total of 66,661 New Mexicans went to polling places before Election Day to vote in the primary; in 2008, that figure was 49,709.

In Bernalillo County, 33,454 voters had turned out through Thursday, compared to 25,581 for the 2012 primary and 17,151 for the 2008 primary.

About 70 percent of this year’s early voters in Bernalillo County were Democrats, and Toulouse Oliver attributed the spike in early voting to interest in the Democratic presidential primary – where Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are vying for the nomination – and a number of legislative and county-level contested Democratic primaries.

On the GOP side, Donald Trump has apparently sewn up the party’s presidential nomination, although there are still five other candidates on the ballot.

This year’s primary election is not directly comparable to the previous two primaries. In 2012, there was an unopposed incumbent on the Democratic ballot, President Barack Obama. In 2008, the Democratic primary ballot didn’t include the presidential contest – headlined by Obama and Clinton – because the party chose its nominee at a February caucus instead.

Fresquez said the lack of an incumbent in this year’s presidential primaries is contributing to the increased interest.

“There’s just some excitement about getting to pick a brand new presidential candidate,” she said.

Journal staff writer Dan McKay contributed to this report.