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.
Thousands of New Mexicans have already voted and Election Day is only weeks away. Which means politicians around the state are in high gear spreading their respective messages through commercials and campaign events. But one tactic many politicians are also using to signal undecided voters is endorsements from high-profile politicians. A New Mexico political scientist said those major endorsements will impact the election but it’s not entirely clear how much it will help or hurt campaigns to get a stamp of approval from a former U.S. president, a New Mexico governor or a sitting U.S. Senator. University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson told NM Political Report those endorsements only go as far as the endorser’s approval rating.
Albuquerque’s Melanie Stansbury decided this was the year to run for office. She filed as a candidate for state representative in Albuquerque, in House District 28 in the Northeast Heights. Republicans have held the seat for over a decade but the Democrat is running an energetic campaign and raising thousands of dollars in donations. Stansbury followed her sister’s lead, a county judge who almost a decade ago went through the Emerge New Mexico program, which trains Democratic woman to run for office. Stansbury joked that she and her sister are the only “Emerge sisters to actually be real sisters in New Mexico.”
The recent Albuquerque and Las Cruces municipal elections, along with other races nationwide, could signal a warning for Republicans in the 2018 elections. The pendulum looks to be swinging from Republican gains during the Barack Obama years to Democratic gains in response to Donald Trump, according to Brian Sanderoff, the president of the Albuquerque-based Research & Polling, Inc.
“I think the political mood right now benefits Democrats,” he said. “And I think part of that is due to the fact that a Republican is in the White House, has lower approval ratings and all the dynamics that go with that.”
In New Mexico, 2018 will be an important election year with the governor’s race, a U.S. Senate seat, three U.S. congressional districts and a number of other statewide positions up for grabs. Locally, Tim Keller’s comprehensive victory in Albuquerque for mayor, the flipping of a previously Republican-held Albuquerque city council seat and the progressive sweep of the Las Cruces city council show how national shifts are reflected in New Mexico politics. “That’s American politics, du jour, that it goes back and forth,” University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson said.
Nearly as many people voted in the Albuquerque runoff election Tim Keller won on Tuesday as voted in October’s eight-way election, according to unofficial numbers from the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office. According to the city’s unofficial numbers, 96,813 voters cast ballots in the runoff between Keller and Dan Lewis—a 28.7 percent turnout among registered voters. That’s close to the 97,000 who cast ballots in the first round of voting on Oct. 3, a 28.8 participation rate among registered voters. UNM professor of political science Lonna Atkeson said she was surprised by the high turnout and cited Keller’s “incredible ground game.”
“His volunteer base was huge and he was getting volunteers to get other volunteers,” she said.
A new report may shed some light on how New Mexico voters feel about campaign public financing and groups who raise money independently of candidates. It comes as ethics complaints related to Albuquerque’s election stack up and congressional and gubernatorial candidates fill their campaign accounts. The 2017 Campaign Finance Report released by the University of New Mexico shows most registered voters favor public financing and making public financing available to more candidates. The report also shows many New Mexicans disagree that independent expenditure groups should be able to raise and spend money unregulated as a form a free speech. The report from the political science department found 70 percent of voters would like public financing to be available for more elected offices.
New Mexico could see a Libertarian primary election on the same day as the Democratic and Republican primaries in 2018. That will depend on the outcome of this year’s presidential election and if the state’s Libertarian Party can boost its membership numbers. Currently the Libertarian Party is considered a minor party in New Mexico, along with the Green and Constitutional parties. But if at least 5 percent of voters in New Mexico vote for the party’s presidential nominee, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party will be on its way to be considered a “major party” in the state and qualify for its own primary election. Johnson is currently polling in the 5 to 10 percent range nationally, but in New Mexico he is polling as high as 24 percent.
“When Democrats win the election and you didn’t do your part to stop it… Your neighbors will know.”
That’s the message on a mailer from the New Mexico Republican Party encouraging early voting. This piece originally appeared at New Mexico In Depth and is reprinted with permission. But not everyone is thrilled by it. “I feel like this is a threat,” said Dusty Deen, a 35-year-old Roswell resident who received the mailer this week. The flier features a woman peeking out her blinds “as though she voted for Hillary and they’re forming a mob,” said Deen, who is an unaffiliated voter..
The months leading up to the general election show an increasing number of voters in New Mexico aligning themselves with a political party in the state rather than registering as independents. Democrats account for roughly half of registered voters, according to data from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office. The other half splits among Republicans, minor parties and those who decline to state an affiliation. But since January the number of registered Democrats spiked by about five percentage points and the number of registered Republicans increased by roughly 4 percentage points. Minor parties also saw an increase in voter registration since the beginning of the year.
Presumptive Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump won New Mexico with 70.7 percent of the Republican vote, but in Los Alamos County he barely cleared half the vote from registered Republicans according to unofficial numbers from the Secretary of State. University of New Mexico political science professor Dr. Lonna Atkeson told NM Political Report there are a number of possible reasons Los Alamos didn’t overwhelmingly vote for Trump as most other counties did—all pointing to demographics. “There’s this thing about Trump being more working-class,” Atkeson said. “Los Alamos is sort of the opposite.”
According 2014 United States census data, 64 percent of residents in the county have at least a bachelor’s degree or higher. A large number of residents work at Los Alamos National Labs and the county regularly ranks near the top of lists of areas with the most post-doctorate degrees per capita.