August 15, 2020

Postal delays to impact elections in many states, but no mention of NM yet

Alexander Marks

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President Donald Trump said this week that he opposes funding for the U.S. Postal Service because of mail-in voting, which he believes will aid his opponent in November, Joe Biden.

This comes as states, including New Mexico, are preparing for a surge in mail-in ballots because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Washington Post reported Friday that 46 states, a list that does not include New Mexico, received a warning from the U.S. Postal Service in late July that they could not guarantee that absentee or mail-in ballots would arrive in time to be counted.

A spokesman for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office said the state did not receive a letter in July like other states, but said the state works closely with the U.S. Postal Service during elections.

“Making sure mailed ballots arrive to County Clerks before 7pm on Election Day is top of mind for election administrators in the state, so we want to make sure voters know that if they plan to mail their absentee ballot back they should do it no later than one week before Election Day,” Alex Curtas said. “However, voters should also know that they can hand deliver their absentee ballot to their county clerk’s office or to a polling location and voters should take advantage of that opportunity if they feel their ballot won’t make it back to their county clerk through the mail in time to be counted.”

The last correspondence from the postal service on elections the state received was in May, Curtas said.

U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has made a number of controversial changes that have resulted in a slowdown in mail delivery, including reducing overtime, decommissioning mail sorting machines and other actions that have drawn the ire of postal workers.

Congressional Democrats have hoped to include relief for the Postal Service in the next round of COVID-19 funding. But Trump, citing the election, has said it’s a nonstarter.

In New Mexico, legislators passed a law this year that allows county clerks to send absentee ballot applications to all registered voters. An effort to just send ballots to all registered voters failed to pass the Legislature, so instead voters must request the mail-in ballots. Only ballots that arrive to the county clerk or to a polling location by the close of polls on Election Day can be counted, according to state law.

The Albuquerque Journal reported earlier this week that county clerks in Rio Arriba, McKinley, Mora, Luna and Hidalgo counties will not send out applications to all voters.

County clerks can begin sending absentee ballot applications to voters on Sept. 14. They can then begin sending absentee ballots to voters who have requested them on October 6. Nine days later, early in-person voting begins.

The last day that voters can request ballots is October 20. But, again, only ballots that arrive by the close of polls on Election Day will be counted, so those mailed later may not leave enough time for voters to return the ballots by mail.

The legislation also extended the time that county clerks can use to process ballots, which officials hope will let them have election results as early as possible. Absentee ballots take much more time than in-person ballots to count, because of the process used to certify them before counting.

Also on Friday, the bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State said they haven’t been able to speak to DeJoy about the nationwide efforts. New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver is the president of that group, which sent a letter to DeJoy seeking the meeting.