If you've requested an absentee ballot, now's the time to start checking the mailbox. A Santa Fe County Clerk contractor started mailing absentee ballots out on Tuesday, the same day in-person, early voting began.
Despite national anxieties about absentee voting, local officials say New Mexico is among the states best prepared to deal with the influx of mail-in ballots in coming weeks.
"People should feel confident in whichever way they choose to vote," says Alex Curtas, a spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.
Curtas says the state uses a paper balloting system, does not connect ballot counting machines to the internet and protects all election offices with high-tech cyber security software to reduce the chances of hacking and digital election fraud. The state conducts post-election audits to make sure that ballots were counted correctly.
Various systems track whether a person has voted twice, has duplicate voter registrations on file or is registered to vote in another state.
Curtas acknowledges that many county clerks' offices were overwhelmed by the "massive influx" of absentee ballots for the June primary elections, but that counties have hired additional staff and are "in a pretty good place in terms of poll workers" this time around. He says an application form for positions across the state received over 3,000 responses.
Santa Fe County voter Kate Martinez says she has faith in the mail-in system, but she is concerned about whether election officials will be able to process ballots quickly. She and her husband Jose have already requested absentee ballots and plan to drop them off at the County Clerk's office rather than return them by mail.
"We usually vote like this," she tells SFR. "We just hope everybody is gonna get out to cast their votes and that their votes are going to be tallied."
Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar has spent weeks preparing, telling SFR that it's been "one of the busiest times" of her life. She's hired nine extra election workers to process data and 30 Absentee Canvass Board members to begin counting absentee ballots 14 days before the official Election Day, which is Nov. 3.
She's also increased the number of workstations allotted to the board for the absentee ballot adjudication process.
In New Mexico, as around the country, an unprecedented number of voters are expected to cast their ballots by mail in this election as public health threats from COVID-19 remain. Statewide, 24% of registered voters have requested absentee ballots.
In Santa Fe, the numbers are even higher—40,259 people, or 38% of registered voters in the county have requested absentee ballots.
By comparison, just 8% of votes in Santa Fe County and 9% statewide were cast by absentee ballot in the 2016 general election.
Fears about voting by absentee ballot were exacerbated earlier this season by questions about the US Postal Service's ability to handle the influx in election mail and, more recently, by President Trump's unfounded claims that the increase in absentee ballots will lead to large scale election fraud.
Election laws (which vary from state to state) are being challenged in courts across the country, but there are no pending lawsuits in New Mexico, says Curtas. Salazar and Curtas say voter fraud is not a significant issue, and say the mail system in New Mexico is capable of handling the volume of ballots, especially if people send them in early. The most pressing concern, they say, is how quickly election workers will be able to process ballots.
"Generally speaking, and historically, voter fraud is such a small percentage; and claiming there may be substantial voter fraud is not an accurate description of elections in the United States, in New Mexico and in Santa Fe County," Salazar tells SFR.
Here are some things you should do to help make this election as smooth as possible:
Mail in your ballot ASAP
Legally you have until Oct. 20 to request an absentee ballot, and you have until Election Day on Nov. 3 to turn it in. However, Curtas says you should put your ballot in the mail no later than Oct. 27 to make sure it arrives at the County Clerk's office in time. Even if your ballot is postmarked before Election Day, it must be received by 7pm on Nov. 3 or it won't count. The postage for your ballot is prepaid.
Make sure you read all the directions on the ballot and fill it out correctly. If an election worker finds a problem with your ballot they are required to notify you within 24 hours. You will have until Election Day to prove your identity and correct mistakes such as a mismatched signature—another reason to get your ballot in early.
If you haven't mailed in your ballot by Oct. 27, you should deliver it in person to the County Clerk's office or to your polling location.
While she says you should feel confident in whatever voting method you choose, Salazar tells SFR the more people vote early in person, the easier it will be for her staff to process ballots on time.
If you have already requested an absentee ballot, you can still choose to vote early in person if you sign an affidavit stating that you did not use your absentee ballot and that you have only voted once.
Early voting began at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center office on Tuesday. Alternative early voting locations will open Oct. 17.
Track your ballot
The state has issued "intelligent mail barcodes" on all ballots that allow you to track them on the secretary of state's website. You can see when you submitted your application, when the clerk mailed the ballot, and when it was received.