February 26, 2019

Poll: New Mexico voters confident in elections

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Finding a polling place. Waiting in line. Filling out a ballot.

Most New Mexico voters don’t seem to have many complaints about that part of Election Day.

But while a new survey has found plenty of confidence in the democratic process as it plays out at the polling place, it also found plenty of concerns about the sanctity of New Mexico’s elections, whether it is the specter of hackers, the influence of big-spending campaign donors or a news media that many view as biased.

And the recent survey found many back what would amount to big changes in the state’s elections — from opening up primaries to include independent voters to expanding public financing for campaigns and requiring some form of photo identification at the polls.

The University of New Mexico has completed a survey of nearly 7,000 voters who participated in the last election.

Ninety-one percent rated their voting experience as either excellent or good.

Eighty-seven percent said they were very confident or at least somewhat confident their vote would be counted as intended.

But most voters surveyed said they are only offered a genuine choice at the ballot box about half the time, some of the time or never.

“People are very confident that their own ballot was counted correctly,” said Lonna Atkeson, a professor of political science at the University of New Mexico who oversaw the survey.

But when it comes to fears about the security and sanctity of America’s elections, voters are getting grave messages from both ends of the political spectrum, she added.

Federal intelligence agencies have raised concerns about foreign efforts to influence the 2016 election. And Democrats have pointed to efforts to suppress voter turnout. Meanwhile, Republicans have raised concerns about the potential for voter fraud.

“You get it from all sides,” said Atkeson.

All of this appears to have ratcheted up anxiety about the trustworthiness of elections.

Most New Mexico voters surveyed said foreign powers had influenced the 2016 election “somewhat” or “a lot.”

And 63 percent said they were very concerned or somewhat concerned about cyber threats or hacking in the state’s elections. In a state that still uses paper ballots, a whopping 87 percent of voters surveyed said it is important for them that there is a paper record of their vote.

Then there are the institutions underlying the democratic process.

Twenty-two percent of New Mexico voters surveyed said journalists never provide fair coverage of candidates.

Seven in 10 said elected officials are more responsive to donors than voters — up from a similar survey following the 2016 election. About half said rich people buy elections all of the time or most of the time.

In turn, New Mexicans seem open to some big changes in the state’s elections.

Fifty-one percent of voters surveyed agreed with using ranked choice voting, which Santa Fe and Las Cruces have adopted for city elections.

That may be a long way off. But lawmakers are considering legislation this year to open up the state’s primary elections to independent voters. Three of four voters surveyed strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that “primary elections should be open to all voters, not just those registered as Democrat or Republican.”

Lawmakers also are considering legislation to automatically register eligible voters at drivers license offices and through other state agencies. Sixty seven percent of voters surveyed signaled support for such a system.

And 65 percent of voters surveyed strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that all elected offices should be eligible to receive public financing.

Meanwhile, 69 percent strongly agreed or somewhat agreed that “photo identification should be required of each voter at the polls.”

The survey’s authors contacted tens of thousands of New Mexicans through mail and email after the last election. The respondents described themselves as just about evenly split between liberals and conservatives, with one in five describing themselves as moderate. The Secretary of State’s Office provided financial support for the project.