Santa Fe woke up to a blanket of snow Tuesday that left the city streets slick well into mid-morning and kept many voters at home. At the Santa Fe Convention Center, where the line of early voters usually stretches out the door and around the block, people showed up in a slow trickle.
Presiding Judge Jeannie Sena says it's the slowest day she's seen since the polling location opened on Oct. 6. But there were enough people all morning to keep the ballot booths consistently occupied, and Sena says that's telling of the urgency people feel to vote early in this election.
There's exactly one week left until Election Day, and 592,906 New Mexicans have already cast a ballot either by voting absentee or voting early in person. This record-breaking number accounts for more than 45% of the 1.3 million registered voters in the state.
As anticipated, New Mexicans are casting absentee ballots in droves. Voters had returned a record-breaking 265,739 absentee ballots to their county clerks as of Tuesday morning, according to a report from the secretary of state.
New Mexicans cast only 68,376 in the 2016 general election. The historic high before this year came in 2008, when 172,136 people voted absentee.
In Santa Fe, 31,550 people have returned absentee ballots and 24,596 people have voted early.
Of those who've chosen to vote early, many show up to the polls in pursuit of peace of mind.
Harpal Khalsa says he requested an absentee ballot but has moved in the last week and was concerned the address change could cause a problem with his ballot, so he decided to vote early instead.
"I just wanted to make sure there were no mishaps on Election Day," he tells SFR. "I definitely wanted to make sure my vote counts."
On Saturday, the Republican minority leaders in the New Mexico House and Senate filed a lawsuit alleging that county clerks in several counties have denied GOP poll challengers access to observe some stages of the absentee ballot verification process. The New Mexico Supreme Court denied the GOP's petition on Tuesday afternoon.
The suit also alleges that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver failed to offer clear guidance to states changes the legislature made this summer to the absentee ballot verification rules.
In a press release issued Monday by the Republican Party of New Mexico, Party Chairman Steve Pearce made statements implying malintent on the part of county clerks.
"County Clerks are elected by the people to work for the people—and now some are working in the shadows, denying the public access to ensuring we have an honest election," Pearce states. "What are they hiding? What are they getting away with?"
Secretary of State Communications Director Alex Curtas rebuffed the allegations in a statement to SFR, emphasizing voters can be confident in the process.
"It's unfortunate that the Republican Party of New Mexico is filing a lawsuit on this issue one week before the 2020 General Election when the procedures that are being followed have been in statute for a long period of time, or were passed in the Special Session this summer, followed by an extensive public rule making process," he wrote.
"To have the Republican Party declare that duly elected County Clerks are purposefully deceiving the public is a worrying tactic ahead of a highly-charged election that has already seen far too many instances of intimidation and misinformation," wrote Curtas.
The Supreme Court ordered the secretary of state to respond to the allegations by noon on Tuesday. Later in the afternoon, the court issued an order denying the Republican legislators' petition.
Republicans filed a second lawsuit Monday in the State District Court in Santa Fe alleging that clerks in Taos and Guadalupe counties have failed to protect the security of absentee ballot drop boxes by failing to ensure adequate supervision of the boxes for the duration of the time that they are accessible to the public.
Last minute plot twists are part of what motivated Lele Jarrell to hit the polls Tuesday morning, despite the weather.
In fact for her, the snowy day created the perfect opportunity to get in and out quickly. The recent Texas transplant has been registered to vote in New Mexico for a little over a week and says she wanted to get to the polls as soon as possible.
"So much can change in a week," she says, "and I think we need more than a day to vote…there are so many obstacles to do the one thing that is the least we can do to participate in our democracy."
Early voting continues through Oct. 31: noon to 8 pm Tuesday through Fridays and 10 am to 6 pm Saturdays at these early-voting sites in Santa Fe County. Early voting at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center takes place from 8 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Voters can check the status of their absentee ballots here.