October 30, 2020

Secretary of State talks about what to expect on election night

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse said she’s hopeful the state will see most of the results from absentee ballots posted on election night, despite the huge surge in absentee ballots requested this year. 

New Mexico, unlike some other states, has laws in place to allow counties to begin tabulating absentee ballots days before the election. Counties that sent out more than 10,000 absentee ballots began processing those ballots on Oct. 24. Counties that sent out less than 10,000 absentee ballots can begin processing those ballots starting today.  

“We are well underway now across the state with the processing of absentee ballots,” Toulouse Oliver said. “What we’re all hopeful for is that beginning this process as early as possible will enable the County Clerks and their absentee precinct boards to get through the vast majority of those mailed ballots before election night, and those boards are going to continue working to process everything that they have up through Election Day.”

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While absentee ballots can be tabulated in advance, she added, no results can be produced or revealed publicly prior to the close of polls, which is 7 p.m. on election night.

She said larger counties which likely will need to continue counting ballots beyond the 11:30 pm deadline on election night, will likely post partial results of the absentee ballots that have already been processed earlier in the evening, she said. Smaller counties will probably wait until later in the evening, after all the polling locations have closed and checked in with the county clerk’s office, before posting their results. 

“We are going to make every effort out of our office to be able to inform [the public] on how many votes are still outstanding at any given county, how many ballots that entails, and how many ballots we either know or estimate are outstanding to be processed over the course of the rest of the evening or the following day,” she said. 

Some statewide and local races will likely be called on election night with unofficial results, she said. But she warned that results for some races won’t be available until after the election, during the post-election canvass process. 

“That is normal, and there will always be provisional ballots outstanding that will need to be counted during the post-election canvass process,” she said. “The post-election canvass process extends a couple of weeks past the election and just depending on the county and how much work they have to do some counties are able to go through it very quickly. Others it takes every minute of that time.”

Counties will also go through an auditing period to ensure that the number of ballots issued equals the number of ballots cast or spoiled or rejected in each county, she said. For close elections, recounts are triggered if the margin of victory is within 1 percent for local and precinct-level elections, and if it’s within a quarter of a percent for statewide elections. 

Referencing two legal actions taken by the state Republican Party this week, Toulouse Oliver said her office is bracing for more potential litigation around election results. 

RELATED: NM GOP files two legal actions a week before election, state Supreme Court rejects one

“This has been by far and away the most litigated election, ever,” she said. “Unfortunately, I think in the highly toxic partisan and litigious environment that we are currently operating under I am not optimistic that that will stop. I think that we’re all on high alert and concerned that, depending on what things look like on election night and in the following days, that there may very well be litigation. What I hope does not happen [is a] halt to the initial accounting process, because that’s really a bedrock of democracy, that we’re able to count every vote.”

But, she said, recounts rarely find mistakes in voting tabulations. 

“I would argue that in 99.99999 percent of any case of a close election here, that automatic recount law and-or the post election audit, is going to be able to rectify or identify any errors that were potentially made in the initial count,” she said. “I will also mention that in every single recount that has occurred in New Mexico since I have been working in the election sphere, not a single recount or an audit has ever changed the outcome of an election or detected a flaw in the accuracy of those election results.”

She also emphasized that a presidential winner likely won’t be declared on election night. 

“Many states like ours have already been able to begin their processing and are going to be in pretty good shape on election night,” she said. “I think that the big challenge, especially as we’re looking at the presidential election, is that many of those key swing states including Pennsylvania and Michigan do not have very much if any time before Election Day [to begin processing absentee ballots].”

“I think we should prepare to sort of hunker down and wait,” she said.