ABQjournal: Nearly a Third of N.M. Voters Cast Ballots Early


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Nearly a Third of N.M. Voters Cast Ballots Early

By Sue Major Holmes
The Associated Press
       A hard-fought fought presidential campaign that stamped a political bull's-eye on New Mexico for months neared an end Monday, as voters prepared to award the state's five intensely coveted electoral votes to either President Bush or Sen. John Kerry.
    While recent polls showed the result of the race firmly in doubt, one thing was certain on the eve of the election: county clerks around the state reported at least 367,318 New Mexicans   —   about a third of the state's 1.1 million registered voters   —   have already cast absentee ballots or voted at early polling sites.
    Early voting wrapped up Saturday evening. Clerks had until last Thursday to mail out absentee ballots.
    The intense interest in New Mexico also means more observers are expected at the polls. For example, San Juan County, where 40 percent of the voters cast ballots early or had already returned their absentee ballots, expects watchers at its absentee board for the first time.
    "We're not going to change the way we're doing things, it's just that they're going to be there watching," said Clerk Fran Hanhardt, a Republican. "I'm sure they're going to get pretty bored."
    The latest polls by the Albuquerque Journal poll and by the Santa Fe New Mexican and KOB-TV found the state a tossup going into the final weekend of campaigning.
    The closeness of the race in New Mexico   —   where Democrat Al Gore won in 2000 by 366 votes   —   continued to spur a heightened battle for its votes.
    President Bush's visit Monday evening is his seventh this year; Democrat John Kerry has visited eight times since January.
    Vice President Dick Cheney brought the campaign's message Sunday evening to a crowd of about 1,000 in Los Lunas, while former President Bill Clinton held a Sunday morning rally in Albuquerque, a day after taking the stage on the Santa Fe Plaza.
    Further south in Las Cruces on Sunday, former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark stumped for Kerry while Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., campaigned for Bush and first-term Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M.
    Clark also campaigned Monday in Albuquerque only hours before Bush's arrival. Speaking from the bed of a pickup truck outside Kerry-Edwards campaign headquarters, he gave 250 volunteers and supporters one last mission   —   to find undecided voters and tell them why they should vote for Kerry.
    "We are down to the final day, the final hour . . . and we're going to get our voices heard," Clark vowed. "Now let's get it on the road."
    Both campaigns planned voter mobilization efforts Tuesday to make sure their supporters get to the polls.
    Gov. Bill Richardson has campaigned for Kerry here and in other states and formed a political committee, Moving America Forward, which has registered numerous voters that Richardson believes will support Kerry.
    "Now it's turnout. It's organization," he said Monday. "The issues have been fleshed out. . . . I believe the voters have made up their minds."
    Danny Diaz, a Bush-Cheney spokesman, said the campaign's 15,000-strong volunteer corps would be out in force, making calls and knocking on doors reminding people to vote. The campaign is dispatching vans to take voters to the polls.
    "I think the Bush campaign and New Mexico have worked very closely over the last year to ensure the re-election of a great man, and I think tomorrow New Mexico is going to play an integral part of a great victory," Diaz said Monday.
    At Bush's rally, Rep. Heather Wilson's re-election campaign handed out cards, each printed with the names and phone numbers of 10 Republicans who had not voted, and urged those taking the cards to call those on the list and urge them to vote.
    The National Weather Service is calling for mostly clear but cold weather around New Mexico on Election Day, although there were reports of scattered snow Monday.
    Bernalillo County, which has about a third of the state's voters, recorded 137,356 early and absentee ballots by Monday out of just over 356,000 voters.
    The county counted 81,785 residents voting early. It also sent out 69,224 absentee ballots   —   55,571 of which had been returned by early Monday.
    Some 37,969 of the county's early voters were registered Democrats; 31,632 were registered Republicans. Some 34,760 Democrats asked for absentee ballots, while 25,192 went to Republicans. Traditionally, more Republicans than Democrats have voted absentee.
    Clerks around the state reported a steady business Monday of voters returning their absentee ballots in person. They also said more were coming in the mail.
    Lea County bureau of elections administrator Keith Manes said his county mailed out 3,312 absentee ballots, about double the normal number. It also recorded 5,175 early voters.
    Eddy County reported about a third of its registered voters have already voted.
    Valencia County saw 6,645 early voters, which Clerk Tina Gallegos said was a record. It also mailed out 4,883 absentee ballots.


AP writers Melanie Dabovich and Deborah Baker contributed to this report