By 3 pm on Election Day, more than 162,000 people had cast their ballots across New Mexico. Adding that number to early and absentee ballots means more than 607,000 had already weighed in on the state’s general election—approximately 45.5% of registered voters.
In Santa Fe County, approximately 13,905 people headed out early Tuesday, with steady traffic at the Santa Fe County Fairgrounds, where a colorful contingent of supporters for US Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez, D-NM, clustered at the entrance cheering and singing.
“I appreciate that she’s at the helm,” Andrea Vargas said. “And she’s been doing such a good job. For me it’s a way to stay optimistic, hopeful, and feel like we’re making a difference for the things that we love. And I love Santa Fe.”
Leger Fernandez, who stopped by to visit with supporters around 9 am, said in an election year characterized by strong rhetoric, she had tried to keep her campaign positive.
“The way I work really is from a place of love,” she said. “And if you are really working from that place, and from what’s best for the community, it becomes a much more positive position.”
Her Republican challenger Alexis Martinez Johnson also showed up at the fairgrounds around the same time to cast her vote before heading to Roswell, her hometown and a new portion of the 3rd Congressional District following redistricting.
“I’m just really glad to be able to provide a choice,” she said. “However people vote, I’m just glad that I’m participating in our democratic republic. That’s really why I entered this race …so that when people go in, they’ll feel confident about that, and say, whichever way that they’re voting, they’ll say, ‘I made a choice, and I exercised my voice.’ I wanted to give people a voice.”
Most voters SFR spoke with at the polls this morning said this year’s governor’s race between incumbent Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham and Republican challenger Mark Ronchetti ranked as the most important contest, with many citing democracy and abortion as their top issues of concern.
Ted Razatos, wife Ami Ehrlich and their dog Mochi showed up early at the fairgrounds and took turns sitting outside with Mochi while the other voted.
Razatos cited “election integrity…and making sure that the election goes off smoothly,” as “really the most important for me and making sure the governor stays in office.”
Ehrlich also cited election integrity as a main concern, along with abortion and “maintaining the right to abortion.”
Beyond that, she added, “I just hope everybody gets out and votes. Even the people I disagree with, I think it’s really important that we keep our democracy going and that everybody feels like their voices are heard, but that they also trust the outcome.”
In advance of Election Day, and in the wake of heightened concerns about voting misinformation, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and Attorney General Hector Balderas issued an advisory on poll monitoring and voter intimidation and Toulouse Oliver said her office and law enforcement agencies would be running a “virtual situation room” today to monitor public safety issues. On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced it would monitor compliance with federal voting rights at 64 locations in the US, including Bernalillo and San Juan counties in New Mexico. Secretary of State Communications Director Alex Curtas told SFR via email as of mid-day there were “no problems to report. No disruptions at polling sites. Everything is running smoothly at this point.”
At the fairgrounds, poll workers said they had recently taken active-shooter training as part of their preparation.
First-time poll-clerk Michael Adee said thus far voters had been “very cordial,” but the active shooter training had taken him by surprise.
“I have to say: I’m 67; I’ve been voting since I was 18, and that’s heartbreaking for me to think that’s necessary,” Adee said. “But then I thought about all my friends who were teachers, or administrators, and so it gave me one more layer of empathy for what other people face.”
Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine Clark confirmed to SFR via text message that the county added active shooter training per recommendations from the Election Assistance Commission and Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency.
“The reality of our current times,” she texted.
While no reports of threats had emerged as of press time, Clark said workers were hearing “the same misinformation” that has been reported regarding voting “from a small loud contingent.”
Clerk Larry Leblang, working alongside Adee at the fairgrounds, said he’d encountered a few people during early voting expressing such views:
“People just being outspoken about their particular personal views, whether to one side or the other,” he said. “And some people have accused us of being part of a conspiracy. And I’ve even heard that the tabulators are actually shredders.”
Nonetheless, Leblang said he felt safe “for the most part” and considered working at the polls a duty:
“I believe in our democracy,” he said, “and I believe we all need to do our part.”
That was the message Marisa Rodriguez took from her government teacher at Capital High School. Now a student in the nursing program at Santa Fe Community College, Rodriguez recently turned 18 and showed up to vote for the first time this morning at the Southside Library.
“If you believe in something, you should just take 15 minutes out of your day to make the change,” she said.
The county bond question for road improvements was important to her, she said, as was governor’s race, particularly the issue of abortion and “just making sure that as women we can keep all of our rights. I’m not wanting to argue with people because if you believe that’s what you believe, but it’s just a thing of people being over-excessive about it and like going to the facilities and just spreading a message that isn’t necessary. And so, I feel like everyone should have a choice in what they do.”
Abortion and women’s rights also was a central issue for Melinda Garcia and her wife, Air Force veteran Jessica Garcia, state employees and parents of three children.
“I’m 40 years old,” Melinda Garcia said, “and in my lifetime, as long as I’ve been voting, women’s rights haven’t been at stake. This year, they’re at stake.”
Heather Rubens showed up to vote with 10-month-old Lucas strapped to her chest. She cared about the bond issues, she said, particularly ensuring money for education (Constitutional Amendment 1) and trails (Santa Fe County bond issue). But the gubernatorial race had also been important.
“A woman’s right to choose what happens with her body is really important,” she said. Rubens also has a 3-year-old daughter, she noted, and “voting feels even more important with kids.”
Josh Drew also showed up to vote with his son, 9-year-old Josh Drew. An independent voter, Drew said he “wanted to get out and vote and make sure his voice was heard.” Reproductive health care and abortion access also helped determine who he voted for in the governor’s race, he said.
“I’m for reproductive rights,” he said, “and no overreach from the government.”
Over-reach from the government, specifically Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, motivated early-morning voter Ralph Schmitt, who said he was voting for one of the governor’s opponents because he had been opposed to the lockdowns during the earlier phase of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impact it had had on restaurants and jobs (he did not want to speak at greater length on the topic).
When the governor and her husband Manuel “Manny” Cordova showed up to vote at the Southside Library around 10:30 am, SFR asked her if she regretted those lockdowns, which have been cited by some of her detractors in this year’s race.
“Do I wish there never been a pandemic? 1,000%,” she said. “Do I wish that I had this President, Biden, at the beginning of COVID? 1,000%. We did what we believed at every single moment was the best thing to save lives. And I will never regret focusing on saving lives.”
Beyond that, she said she was feeling as “good as possible. It’s an unknown. We don’t know until we know. But you should wake up every single election day, whether it’s your first or your 100th time, feeling like you did everything you could. And we did everything we know to do. And we stayed as positive as we can. That’s been a signature of my elections since 2008. I want people to know who we are, why I’m that person, what we’ve accomplished and to ask voters to take a look at that evidence.”