Speaker of the House Brian Egolf and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said it is safe to vote in-person and emphasized COVID-safe practices in place at polling locations in the state during a Facebook Live event Wednesday afternoon addressing election and voting concerns.
“I want to remind everyone watching that it is safe to vote in person in New Mexico,” Egolf, a House Democrat, said. “The Secretary of State and the County Clerks have made sure that election workers have personal protective equipment. As long as you’re wearing a mask and stand six feet away from folks, it is perfectly safe to vote in New Mexico, early and on election day. So please don’t be afraid to go out and vote.”
So far, more than 620,000 voters have already cast their ballots, representing roughly 80 percent of the 2016 election.
“We are seeing record breaking turnout in New Mexico, no question,” she said.
Toulouse Oliver also encouraged voters to vote early if possible, and to be prepared for a wait if they vote in-person.
“We have several full days of early voting left, plus Election Day itself,” she said. “Usually we have a majority of the vote cast before Election Day but just a huge chunk is cast on Election Day. I don’t think that will look differently this year.”
“I do expect a really heavy turnout over the last few days of early voting. So if you are going to go vote in person, you will be absolutely safe, COVID-safe practices are in place in every polling place across the state, but do maybe expect to wait,” she said.
Too late to mail in ballots now
The Secretary of State’s Office recommended that those voting by absentee ballot to mail their ballots no later than October 27, which has now passed. But Toulouse Oliver said voters still have time to drop off their absentee ballots directly at their County Clerk’s office or at any early voting polling location in their counties.
“I cannot guarantee, and the U.S. Postal Service cannot guarantee, that your ballot will arrive on time if you mail it now,” Toulouse Oliver said. She reminded voters that absentee ballots must be received by the County Clerk’s office by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3, and that ballots in New Mexico that arrive later than that—even if they are postmarked by Nov. 3—will not be counted.
“New Mexico is not what’s been referred to in the news as a ‘postmark state.’ It is a must-receive-ballot-by-7p.m.-on-Election-Day state,” she said.
Toulouse Oliver also recognized that some absentee voters may be out of state or away from the counties they are registered in and unable to drop their ballots off.
“If you are not in your county, and you do try to get it in the mail, I will tell you one thing: I and the USPS and your county clerk will move heaven and earth to try to get that ballot back on time,” she said.
Don’t expect a presidential winner to be declared on Nov. 3rd
Egolf and Toulouse Oliver were joined in the livestream by Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections for the national nonprofit Common Cause, which provides nonpartisan poll monitors during elections.
Albert said she’s confident that elections in New Mexico will be secure this year, while adding that she’s losing sleep over some other states’ election systems.
“I think local election officials have been doing a really great job this time around of giving people a behind the scenes look and showing them what it really means to count ballots, and to verify the ballot is from the voter and verify that it is a proper ballot and that it should be counted, and all the security measures in place,” Albert said. “I think local elections officials are doing a great job—for the most part—in a very, very tough situation. And I think we really need to applaud them.”
But efforts to reduce confidence in the integrity of the election is more of a concern than actual fraud, Albert said.
“I’m more concerned about the politicization and the efforts to undermine people’s confidence in the election. A democracy is as strong as people’s belief in the vote,” Albert said. “What we’re seeing is just partisan rhetoric, in order to try to sway people’s confidence in the election.”
Earlier this week, state Republicans filed two legal actions against the Secretary of State’s Office over alleged election issues. The state Supreme Court dismissed one while the other, which is filed in district court, alleges that the Taos County Clerk’s office was not following election protocols for its absentee ballot boxes.
Toulouse Oliver said the lawsuits were “an effort to confuse and to cause distrust in the election process amongst voters.”
“These are very partisan ugly voter suppression tactics that we’re seeing from the Republican Party in terms of filing these lawsuits,” she said. “The only thing that I can say is that from the minute that our office was made aware of any sort of concerns or issues concerning valid dropboxes in Taos, or any other county, we have been completely on top of the issue, not only in dialogue directly with the Republican Party and their advocates and attorneys, as well as with the County Clerk. I have full confidence in the Taos County Clerk that she is following the guidance and that she’s made the appropriate corrections and taking action to follow the guidance.”
Albert also said voters shouldn’t be concerned if a winner in the presidential race isn’t declared on election night, and that a potentially weeks-long delay in determining a winner in that election is not an indication of suspicious activity.
“Elections always take a few weeks to count all the ballots. Whatever happens on election night, whatever the press says, elections aren’t certified by election officials for many weeks after that,” Albert said. “So, what’s gonna happen this time around is it might just take a little bit longer to count those ballots. And there’s nothing wrong with that, that just means we are actually acting as a democracy and counting every single ballot.”
“Have faith in the system, it works,” she added. “We’ve got really great people doing their best. And so when people start shouting nonsense at you, just ignore them and go to trusted sources for your information, go to the Secretary of State’s website. Trust the experts and don’t expect a winner on November 3rd.”