Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed a voting rights expansion into law on Thursday.
HB 4 updates the state Election Code by expanding voting rights across New Mexico including the addition of the Native American Voting Rights Act and restores rights to formerly incarcerated felons. “For me, in particular, you know, New Mexico already is a state with expansive and productive voting rights access and protections, and that’s meaningful and I really want to say thank you to the state and all of the coalition members who have been clear about that,” Lujan Grisham said during the bill’s signing ceremony. “All the things that we have, to some degree, been able to take for granted, because we have good leadership… We cannot, in this climate, take that for granted that governors and secretaries of state and policymakers are going to be able to navigate it and we want to send a message to the rest of the country. That this is what voting protection and access should look like.”
More: Election reform bills pass Legislature
More than 50 organizations representing thousands of New Mexicans make up the coalition Lujan Grisham mentioned.
New Mexico’s governor along with the state’s top elections official announced support for legislation that would protect and expand voting rights in the state. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced their backing on Thursday, less than two weeks before the start of the state’s 2022 regular legislative session. The announcement also came on the anniversary of the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to stop the certification of electoral votes. The voting rights package proposed by Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver would expand online registration for voters, provide increased support for Native American residents and create a permanent absentee ballot list for those who request to be added.
Through one day of early voting and the beginning of absentee voting, over 10,100 New Mexicans have cast ballots statewide. Of those, just under half are Democrats.
The numbers released by the Secretary of State’s office showed that 10,109 voters have cast ballots in New Mexico already. Of those, 8,816 cast ballots early in-person and 1,293 returned absentee ballots. In all, 328,913 voters have requested absentee ballots from their county clerks. While early voting opened in clerks’ offices in each county—or the Clerk’s Annex in Bernalillo County, expanded early voting will begin on Oct.
After the coronavirus pandemic and record turnout led to shuttered polling places and mountains of absentee ballots slowing the count in June’s primary election, New Mexico county clerks say they’re hiring more election workers and opening more places to vote in person for the general election. Still, there is anxiety about how the system will handle what many across the political spectrum are calling “the most important election of a lifetime.” Most believe it will take longer in 2020 to know some of the winners, particularly in New Mexico’s hotly contested southern congressional district. And the presidential election, nationally, appears unpredictable as well. Across the country, political strategists who have been encouraging absentee ballots for months have recently shifted to pushing early in-person voting. In New Mexico, public officials and advocates have coalesced around a common mantra: Vote early and be patient while the votes are counted.
Election Day is a month and a half away and New Mexico’s Secretary of State Maggie Tolouse Oliver wants voters to know the state’s election process works and is safe and secure.
Over the past several weeks, there has been speculation from President Donald Trump and the Republican Party that voting by mail could result in widespread voter fraud. Questions about how secure mail in ballots are is nothing new. But amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a push by many to encourage voters to mail in their ballots instead of showing up in person to vote.
Toulouse Oliver told NM Political Report that she is confident in both her staff and the county clerks’ ability to accurately and efficiently process ballots on Election Day and even the days leading up to it.
National political rhetoric has also seemed to create confusion in New Mexico whether mailing in a ballot is safe. Trump has expressed his concern with mailing in ballots, yet he has voted by mail in Florida, where he is registered to vote. Further, the Republican Party of New Mexico has sent out at least one batch of mailers, encouraging voters to request an absentee ballot and vote in support of Trump.
A group is sending absentee ballot applications to voters throughout the state. While the ballots are valid, they are still causing some to question whether they are official. The ballots come from the Center for Voter Information, which is affiliated with the Voter Participation Center. Previously, NM Political Report wrote about the VPC sending voter registration forms to tens-of-thousands of eligible but unregistered voters. Some people have reached out to NM Political Report after receiving the ballot applications in the mail with concerns if they are valid.
Democrats in New Mexico, including the Secretary of State, rejected President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the upcoming federal elections be delayed. Trump floated the unlikely idea on Twitter Thursday morning, writing, “With Universal Mail-In Voting (not Absentee Voting, which is good), 2020 will be the most INACCURATE & FRAUDULENT Election in history. It will be a great embarrassment to the USA. Delay the Election until people can properly, securely and safely vote???”
After pushback, including from Republican leaders who said the idea of moving Election Day back was a non-starter, Trump tweeted that he was glad he got the media to talk about mail-in voting. Election Day is set by federal law and leaders in the U.S. House and Senate, including Republicans, rejected the idea.
State officials have urged New Mexicans to vote via absentee ballots if at all possible, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. So far, it appears, voters have heard this and are responding. New Mexicans are voting by absentee ballot at an unprecedented rate for this June’s primaries.
As of Tuesday morning, 98,485 voters in the primary had cast ballots through absentees. In 2008, the year that previously had the highest amount of absentee ballots for a primary had just 30,854 absentee ballots cast. That number will continue to grow—as of Tuesday morning, 155,673 voters requested absentee ballots.
Over 5,500 New Mexicans requested absentee ballots as of the afternoon of Wednesday March 25, according to the Secretary of State’s office. That is after her office opened the state’s absentee ballot portal on March 20.
The launch of the online portal came a month earlier than normal for the June 2 primary elections. New Mexico offers “no-excuse” absentee voting, which means any eligible voter can vote by absentee just by requesting a ballot. Some states don’t have any absentee voting, while others only allow voters to request absentee ballots for certain reasons. The online portal for absentee ballots only began in 2018, so there is not a direct comparison for the numbers this year, in a presidential election year, which has higher turnout than elections without a presidential race on the ballot.
New Mexico voters finished early voting with a flourish, with over 88,000 New Mexicans casting ballots early and in-person in the final two days of early voting on Friday and Saturday, according to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s office. More voters voted early this year than in either 2008 or 2012, even as absentee voting numbers continue to fall. Democrats finished with a 64,727 vote advantage with early voting over Republicans, casting 229,208 early ballots compared to 164,481 for Republicans. Those not part of either major party cast 79,478 ballots early. Early voting ended Saturday.