While widespread distrust of the government leads many people to fear electoral fraud, Torrance County Clerk Linda Jaramillo said votes are secure.
She said in 24 years in the Torrance County Clerk’s office, she has never seen an instance of voter fraud.
Asked about security precautions by The Independent, Jaramillo pointed to layers of security and scrutiny of the vote, and said vote fraud is both a serious crime and very rare.
Jaramillo walked through the process for an absentee ballot: In Torrance County, voters submit an absentee ballot request to the County Clerk. Some organizations have sent out ballot request forms, which will work if they use the approved format, Jaramillo said.
Some counties in New Mexico are sending absentee ballot request forms to all registered voters.
After the Clerk gets the ballot request, her office—at this stage—pre-processes them in readiness to be sent out Oct. 6, the first day they can be mailed, Jaramillo said. That means checking the ballot application request against the voter rolls to make sure the person requesting the ballot is registered to vote in the county.
The last day to get an absentee ballot application to the Clerk is Oct. 20.
Those ballot applications are kept in a locked cabinet inside the records vault in the County Clerk’s office.
After voters receive their ballot in the mail, Jaramillo advises that they vote immediately and return the ballot to her office, either by mail or in person, to make sure it arrives in time.
The ballot arrives to the voter with an inner and outer envelope to be returned to the Clerk. The outer envelope must include the voter’s name, signature and the last four digits of their Social Security number, Jaramillo said.
The ballot itself goes into a sealed envelope within the outer envelope, allowing the County Clerk to know who voted without seeing how they voted, she said. The envelope enclosing the ballot contains no identifying information.
Ballots must be received by the County Clerk’s office by no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3. That includes ballots that are postmarked earlier than Nov. 3, Jaramillo said.
Ballots can be returned to the County Clerk’s office any time from Oct. 6 through Election Day. Jaramillo is also planning to have a drop box for ballots accessible to voters from outside at the county administration building in Estancia, she said.
Ballots can also be returned to the Moriarty Civic Center starting Oct. 17, then Tuesdays through Saturdays from Oct. 20 to Oct. 31, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
On Election Day, voters can return absentee ballots to any of 11 Voting Convenience Centers around the county.
Between the time they are received and Election Day, when they are counted, ballots are kept in locked containers in the Clerk’s vault, and in a warehouse next door. That warehouse has a security camera feed visible to the Sheriff’s department, Jaramillo said.
On Election Day, boards of five or six election workers check people in, verifying against a statewide database whether they have already cast a ballot by mail. Asked what would happen if another person had voted in someone’s name, Jaramillo explained the process for casting a provisional ballot, and how those are verified.
The voter would sign an affidavit swearing they had not yet voted, then cast a provisional vote. Election workers verify which vote was correct by checking date of birth and other data, along with the signature on file. Whichever vote was determined to be correct would be counted, while the other would not, Jaramillo said.
Voters can request a provisional ballot if they are not on the voter rolls but think they should be, or for other reasons. If a voter is determined to live outside the county in which the vote is cast, it won’t be counted.
Security for ballots is tight, Jaramillo said, and every aspect of the process is open to public scrutiny. Jaramillo said she could easily prove that no fraud had occurred in Torrance County elections, but added that people don’t want to delve into the evidence.
Ballots are counted and recounted, and every number has to match. After the county is finished, the whole election is then scrutinized by the Secretary of State before the results are certified.
Ballot boxes have two separate seals, one held by her office, and the second held by district court, Jaramillo said, adding that if any ballot box is opened, those seals have to be broken.
Asked about dead people casting a vote, Jaramillo said her office cross-checks vital statistics records and obituaries on a weekly basis to update the voter rolls, and keeps detailed records.
Voters with the same names are verified through other data including birthdays and signatures.
More information about voting in Torrance County is available at the County Clerk’s website, or by calling 505-544-4350.
To see The Independent’s video of Jaramillo and two election workers talking about absentee ballots, click here.