Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

Boosted accessibility for voters in ongoing NM local election

Polls are open for New Mexican voters, and thousands of people have already voted, both in-person and by mail.

How to vote

New Mexicans can only register to vote in person, even on the same day as voting, at this point in time for the local election.

Early voting is ongoing, and polling locations nearby can be found at the Secretary of State’s Office website here.

The last day to request an absentee ballot is Tuesday, Oct. 24. Voters can mail absentee ballots, put them in drop boxes or return them in person to their local county clerk’s office or any Election Day polling location. Absentee ballots must be returned by 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 7. 

And with additional accessibility measures enacted by the 2023 Voting Rights Act, people could find more ease voting in this election than in the past.

As of Tuesday morning, voters had turned in 6,418 ballots, according to data from the Secretary of State’s Office.

That’s made up of 5,101 in-person early voters and 1,317 absentee ballots.

Only about 4% of absentee ballots had been received, out of the 31,779 people that requested them so far statewide.

Voters in Bernalillo County had asked for the most absentee ballots by far with 15,918 requests — nearly half of all the absentee ballot requests in the state. Following behind was Santa Fe County with 4,364 requests, Doña Ana County with 2,827 requests and Sandoval County with 2,379 requests.

All of the other counties had fewer than 1,000 absentee ballot requests.

Absentee ballots

New Mexico doesn’t require any reason for someone to request an absentee ballot.

There are only really benefits to that, said Mason Graham, policy director for Common Cause, a nonprofit that works to uphold voter rights. He said it started up with the COVID-19 pandemic. He said absentee ballots allow for more convenience in voting and can help people do more research on candidates.

Despite baseless misinformation around mail-in voting, it’s just as secure as in-person voting. Graham said there are extensive integrity and security measures with absentee ballots.

For example, voters receive two envelopes with absentee ballots, he said. One is the actual ballot and another is a security envelope inside the ballot, Graham said, and the officials counting the votes verify that the security envelope is closed.

Fraudulent ballots also don’t come through because election officials check names, social security numbers and addresses, Graham said.

“It’s the exact same level of security that you would get if you were to go to your own voting location,” he said.

There is 24-hour monitoring on drop boxes.

“Any kind of tampering of ballot drop boxes would immediately be flagged, and election officials will be notified. So there isn’t any issue when it comes to the integrity of the ballot drop boxes,” Graham said.

He said the U.S. has historically used absentee ballots, like sending them to U.S. citizens who are overseas or those who can’t vote on the mainland because of things like military service or working internationally.

Drop boxes

There’s a new requirement this year that every county have at least two ballot drop boxes, which comes from the 2023 Voting Rights Act.

How many ballot drop boxes are in each county still varies, though, since counties can request exemptions through the Secretary of State’s Office due to “geographic or security constraints.”

For this election, multiple counties only have one drop box, and some don’t have any at all, according to county clerks around the state.

Lea County has no drop boxes after asking the state for a waiver in July. Chaves County also doesn’t have any, despite not sending an exemption request to the state. The county sent two proposed locations to the Secretary of State’s Office in August but said they wouldn’t be available for this local election.

Areas with only one drop box include Grant County, Mora County and Union County.

Larger counties like Bernalillo and Santa Fe Counties have many containers, with drop boxes scattered throughout the more densely populated areas.

It’s historically been more difficult to vote in rural or tribal areas in New Mexico, where residents often have to drive hours to reach a county clerk’s office or drop box, if there is one.

Graham said he thinks the biggest improvement with the Voting Rights Act is that people can list government and official buildings on tribal land as an address to get an absentee ballot, something that can help people who don’t have traditional addresses.

“That’s an improvement that I think is going to do leaps and bounds for people who live in those communities,” he said.

Other accessibility measures

The Voting Rights Act also gave people formerly convicted of felonies on parole the right to vote.

For Graham’s father, who was convicted of a nonviolent felony back in the 1990s, that meant he regained his right to vote after 19 years, by the time his son was also old enough to vote.

Barriers still remain. People with this newly granted right to vote are limited to only registering to vote in person, Graham pointed out.

For anyone who doesn’t register immediately upon release when presented with that information, they have to figure it out later on.

“You might not have reliable transportation. You might not know where the county clerk’s office is,” Graham said. “You might be just trying to get back on your feet and you’re not really thinking too much about, ‘What do I need to do to register to vote?’”

Common Cause is talking about this with the Secretary of State’s Office, trying to figure out a path forward to change this rule, Graham said. He said it might require additional legislation, and the upcoming 30-day legislative session in 2024 will be focused on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s priorities.

Graham pointed out that the Voting Rights Act also made Election Day a school holiday, so students and anyone working for the school system get that day off.

“This is another step to make sure that Election Day is going to be accessible for everybody,” he said.

He said it would be nice to take it a step further and make it a state holiday, so government workers also get the day off.

Graham anticipates with the Voting Rights Act and same-day voter registration, which is also relatively new in the state, that New Mexico will see a higher voter turnout for this local election.



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