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Voters wait in line for nearly two hours at early polling sites

By Dan McKay
Journal Staff Writer
       It took Dora Torres an hour and 45 minutes to cast her ballot Tuesday afternoon. She says it was worth it, despite the long line.
    "It's only going to get busier," Torres said after walking out of the early voting location near Wyoming and Harper NE.
    The election, in fact, could be a record-breaker. Bernalillo County handled about 12,000 early voters through Saturday, about three times as many as it had during that period in 2004.
    Absentee balloting is also outpacing totals from the last presidential election. The county elections bureau received roughly 63,000 absentee ballots four years ago. It has already mailed out almost 80,000 ballots this year — and voters are expected to return about 95 percent of them.
    Turnout "has been heavy and significantly higher than at this point in 2004," County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said. "Things seem to be running very smoothly."
    The University of New Mexico and the Northeast Heights locations — especially Integrity Plaza on Wyoming and Market Center on Lomas — have been the busiest. The South Valley and Downtown locations have been the lightest.
    Oliver said she has asked the state for permission to expand the early voting hours to accommodate the enormous interest.
    Voters began forming a line at the Harper voting location about 11 a.m., an hour before polls opened. They said it took anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour and 45 minutes to complete the voting process.
    Voters interviewed by the Journal said they expected a long wait, just not that long.
    "I figured it wouldn't be quite this busy on a Tuesday," said Jeri Smith of Northeast Albuquerque. "I should've known better.
    Pamela Young, who lives in Academy Acres, said she hasn't missed an election since she turned 21 about 40 years ago. She arrived at 11 a.m. to become the second person in line. Almost two hours later, the line stretched hundreds of feet.
    Young's advice to potential voters: "Do it soon. Election Day is going to be a mess."
    The county is trying to accommodate the boom in turnout. It has 16 early voting locations, three more than in 2004 and 2006. The sites themselves are also bigger.
    The ballot itself is long. Young said it took her 22 minutes to read and mark the ballot.
    Torres, a Northeast Heights resident, said she arrived at 11 a.m. and walked out at 12:45 p.m.
    "I think it was worth the wait," she said.