March 18, 2020

No plans to delay primaries, and SOS encourages vote by mail



At this point, the state of New Mexico is planning on conducting its primary elections in June as originally planned.

That’s what Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report Tuesday, even as other states delayed their primaries over fears related to COVID-19, a disease caused by a coronavirus. In fact, changing the election date would require changing the state law.

Toulouse Oliver said weeks ago, she was conducting interviews with people lamenting New Mexico’s late primaries. Now, “it’s a tremendous advantage that we have plenty of time to plan and handle this situation,” she said. However, she still expects a “tremendous amount of work” over the next two-and-a-half months.

Toulouse Oliver expects to see a record number of absentee ballots for a primary election. And she encouraged the trend, calling for as many people as possible to vote by mail.

New Mexico has no-excuse absentee voting. All someone needs to do is call their county clerk’s office and request an absentee ballot or download and print an application from the Secretary of State’s website. The state will open up its portal a month early to accommodate those who seek an absentee ballot.

In the 2018 general election, a crush of absentee ballots led to a delay in counting those ballots in Doña Ana County. Toulouse Oliver believes that was an “anomaly” and that county clerks will be prepared for the increase in absentee ballots this year.

“I think we’re going to be in a far better position to accommodate the increase and try to prevent any delays,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Still, the Secretary of State is unable to send ballots to every registered voter, like in Oregon, Washington and Colorado. It would take a change in law, requiring an unlikely special session in the next few weeks, to allow her to do that ahead of the primaries.

However, Toulouse Oliver said she is doing “everything that we can do short of a law change, within the context of the governor’s executive authority and within the context of both my authority and the ability to make emergency changes with the permission of the court.”

While she hopes to have as many people as possible vote by mail instead of in person, she acknowledges some people will still vote in person. And absentee voting requires in-person absentee boards.

This brings the concern of poll workers into focus. Most poll workers in New Mexico, and around the country, are over the age of 60, and so at higher risk of the consequences of COVID-19. 

In Florida during Tuesday’s primaries, many poll workers stayed home, likely because of COVID-19.

“We’re already trying to figure out how we are going to shift the burden of running the elections to folks who are less at risk,” Toulouse Oliver said.

One option is working with the Department of Workforce Solutions and those who are out of work, either laid off or furloughed, because of the effects of COVID-19 to work elections.

Still, Toulouse Oliver says she wants to encourage folks to participate in the election.

“We are all learning lessons on a daily basis on what effective government looks like, what ineffective government looks like and what having effective leaders looks like,” she said.