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Nearly half of NM voters have cast ballots

Voter stickers sit in a pile near a ballot machine at an early voting site in Albuquerque on Thursday. Bernalillo County's clerk says more than one-third of the county's registered voters have already cast ballots. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

Voter stickers sit in a pile near a ballot machine at an early voting site in Albuquerque on Thursday. Bernalillo County’s clerk says more than one-third of the county’s registered voters have already cast ballots. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

SANTA FE – It’s Election Day in New Mexico, but more than 524,000 state residents – or roughly 40.7 percent of all registered voters – have already cast ballots this year during early and absentee voting, shattering the marks set in 2008 and 2012.

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A heated presidential race in which Republican Donald Trump made two campaign stops in New Mexico and his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, launched a final week TV ad blitz in the state captured the attention of many voters, but spirited contests for secretary of state, Congress and the state Supreme Court are among other races and poll questions to be decided today.

Control of both chambers of the Legislature is also at stake, as Democrats are hoping to take back the state House of Representatives – after a historic GOP takeover in 2014 – and are defending a 24-18 advantage in the Senate.

Meanwhile, it’s likely that more than half of the voters who will cast ballots in this year’s election already have voted, said University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson.

“I think there’s a lot of reasons people are voting early,” Atkeson said, citing voter political fatigue and anxiety about possible long lines on Election Day as among the reasons. “There’s a lot of relief that comes mentally from getting it done.”

Atkeson, who’s been tracking New Mexico elections for years, said she expects an additional 300,000 to 400,000 New Mexicans will vote today, which could boost total turnout to around 900,000 voters – or about 70 percent of registered voters.

Longtime New Mexico political observer and Journal pollster Brian Sanderoff said he believes 60 percent of the total votes cast in New Mexico may have been cast before today.

He also noted that largely urban counties posted particularly robust early voting levels, with nearly 46 percent of registered voters in Bernalillo County having cast their ballots before Election Day and 49 percent of voters in Santa Fe County having voted early or absentee.

In contrast, some rural counties recorded lower early voting numbers, which could mean higher Election Day turnout.

“I think that many rural counties haven’t developed the early voting culture that’s taken hold in more urban counties,” Sanderoff said.

Registered GOP voters actually ended up outpacing Democratic voters in early voting by percentage – 42.3 percent of Republican voters cast ballots early, compared with 39 percent of Democratic voters – but Democrats outnumber Republicans statewide.

And voters from both of the major parties voted early at a higher rate than did independent voters, or those who decline to state a party affiliation.

‘Ground game’

As the clock ticked toward Election Day, the leaders of the Democratic and Republican state parties sounded confident Monday in their “ground games,” or get-out-the-vote efforts.

Debra Haaland, chairwoman of the New Mexico Democratic Party, said party headquarters in Santa Fe County was “packed” with volunteers making phone calls and urging Democrats to vote today.

Haaland also said the party is checking with people who said they planned to vote early.

“We’re following up with them, and if they didn’t vote, we’re making sure they vote on Election Day,’ she said. “I also know there are lots of folks everywhere who are offering to give people rides to the polls. We have a huge volunteer operation for the Hillary campaign here, but also every single (state and local Democratic) candidate has a ground game, as well.”

Debbie Maestas, chairwoman of the Republican Party of New Mexico, said the state GOP made a “grand push” over the weekend that resulted in more than 100,000 phone calls urging Republicans to vote for Trump. Maestas also said the fact that Trump and Pence made a combined five appearances in the state while Clinton made none during the campaign has energized New Mexico Republicans.

“We’ve got ourselves a horse race,” Maestas said, referring to the narrow national polls. “The many Trump rallies have helped tremendously towards getting out the vote. Hillary has taken New Mexico for granted, and people more and more understand that their vote actually matters.”

A Journal Poll conducted last week showed Clinton receiving support from 45 percent of likely New Mexico voters, compared with 40 percent for Trump.

Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, a former New Mexico governor who is planning to hold an Election Night rally in Albuquerque, got 11 percent in the recent poll.

Mudslinging

This year’s election cycle has been marked by vitriol and personal attacks in the presidential race, and some state-level races have had similar mudslinging.

New Mexico races have also featured high spending levels, as Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Republican Nora Espinoza have combined to spend nearly $1 million in the secretary of state race, according to reports filed this month.

In a legislative race that’s epitomized this year’s rough-and-tumble election cycle, Senate Democratic floor leader Michael Sanchez of Belen is looking to fend off a challenge from Republican Greg Baca in Senate District 29.

A pro-Republican super PAC led by Gov. Susana Martinez’s political director, Jay McCleskey, targeted Sanchez with a barrage of hard-hitting TV ads and mailers featuring claims from family members of crime victims that Sanchez is “soft on crime.”

But Sanchez has pushed back by blasting the ads as false and highlighting his opponent’s criminal record, including charges from years ago. As of earlier this month, Sanchez had spent nearly $400,000 on his re-election bid – including thousands of dollars on TV ads. He also enlisted the help of all four Democratic members of the state’s congressional delegation at a weekend rally in Belen.

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