Election Officials On High Alert

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver says clerks and workers are braced for a busy Election Day and prepared for potential problems

While more than 660,000 ballots have already been cast for the Nov. 3 general election, voting officials expect heavy turnout on Saturday—the final day for early voting—and busy polling places on Tuesday's Election Day.

Of those ballots, more than 292,000 were absentee, approximately 76% of the total absentee ballots requested.

Calling the cast ballots "far and away a record for any election here in New Mexico," Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who spoke with journalists this morning in a pre-election news conference, said New Mexico voters have "gotten the memo. They've gotten out and early voted. But that number is indicative we're going to continue to have heavy turnout in the waning days of the election."

To that end, Toulouse Oliver urged voters planning to vote on Election Day "to try to get to the polls as early as they can." Often delays on election night, she said, stem from voters who were still waiting on line when polls closed at 7 pm. Toulouse Oliver also reminded voters who have not yet returned their absentee ballots at this point to bring them in person during early voting or on Election Day. "We are several days past the drop-dead date" by which the US Postal Service can guarantee the ballots will be received in time, she said.

Toulouse advised voters the expected "lull times" usually happen mid-morning or mid-afternoon on Election Day. But she also noted that while voters may encounter lines due to COVID-19 capacity limitations at polling places, they often "look longer than the actual wait time."

As for election night results, Toulouse Oliver emphasized that absentee ballots are already being processed and absentee voter precinct boards in each county will be working on them through Election Day. Result times, after polls close at 7 pm, will—as always—vary from county to county. Larger counties where election workers are unlikely to finish tabulating absentee votes in advance of the 11:30 pm cutoff time on election night, may post partial figures earlier in the evening. Smaller counties may wait to finish and post more complete numbers later.

"I'm feeling optimistic we should be able to get through the absentee vote count within a day or two after Election Day," Toulouse Oliver said. "I think we'll know what we know on election night in terms of distribution of the votes and margins of potential victory, and we should be able to make some pretty clear calls on election night on some races. There are and will be many races around the state that will be impacted by outstanding ballots still to count. That is normal."

While Toulouse Oliver expressed confidence in New Mexico's procedures and preparations for the upcoming election, she acknowledged officials are on "high alert" in terms of disruptions at polling places, as well as potential legal challenges.

As to the former, she said the Secretary of State's Office has been in regular contact with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in advance of any problems at voting sites.

"We are on alert for any acts of voter intimidation and any sort of activities that are going on in or around polling places that contributes to either the obstruction of the election process, bogging it down, making it more difficult, slowing process so people have to wait." Should any activities "encroach" on a polling place within 100 feet "our poll officials and county clerks are well aware of their responsibilities and duties and keeping a calm and efficient process without threat of intimidation going on at the polling place."

Under state law, she noted, law enforcement agencies can't be present or patrolling, but "we do need a rapid response if and when a public safety issue arises. "

Regarding legal challenges, Toulouse Oliver said she was appreciative the state Supreme Court had struck down a Republican lawsuit earlier this week regarding absentee voting, and "optimistic" a pending Republican lawsuit in the first Judicial District can be resolved.

Still, she acknowledged in response to a question from SFR that there could be more litigation coming, given the national environment.

"This has been by far and away the most litigated election ever. Unfortunately…in the highly toxic partisan and litigious environment that we are currently operating under, I'm not optimistic that will stop."

However, she noted, legal rulings "coming out around the country," including the most recent from New Mexico's state Supreme Court, indicate reluctance by courts to "take action to change election rules this close to an election," a legal principle known as the Purcell principle.

Nonetheless, she said, "I think 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 that we don't see a halt to the initial counting process, because that's really a bedrock of democracy that we're able to count every vote."

Early voting continues through Saturday, Oct. 31: noon to 8 pm 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 through Friday. Voters can check the status of their absentee ballots here.

Voting Convenience Centers are open on Election Day from 7 am to 7 pm for the Nov. 3 general election. A complete list can be found at: santafecountynm.gov/clerk/vccs

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