October 5 kicks off the start of the regular local election season: The date is the deadline for voter registration, it’s the first day in-state absentee ballots are sent out in the mail, and it sparks the beginning of same-day registration and voting at county clerks’ offices.
Expanded early voting will begin Oct. 16, at polling locations throughout the state. Election Day is Nov. 2.
At stake are town councils and mayoral positions in towns around the area, including Edgewood, Moriarty, Tijeras, Estancia, Mountainair and Willard. Voting will also be for school boards and soil and water conservation districts.
Here’s what you need to know.
Santa Fe County
Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine Clark wants any citizen interested in absentee voting to know that time is of the essence when considering whether to mail in their ballot or hand-deliver it in what’s known as absentee-in-person voting.
“We know the mail is going to experience some slow down,” she said. “I would say that if you plan to mail your ballot, do not request it past Tuesday, October 19th.”
She said those planning to drop them off in person can wait a bit longer to request those ballots.
“This year,” said Clark, “we’re actually introducing a texting program, so when you apply for your absentee ballot, make sure to put an email [address] or a cell phone [number] because we will text you updates on your ballot.”
Regarding the security of votes that have been cast, Clark said that the possibility of fraud in the election is unlikely.
“We don’t leave ballots overnight,” she said. “We take them back to the county clerk’s office in Santa Fe. The ballots travel with GPS tracking, and we utilize a chain of custody and seal system so no ballots can be introduced outside of the chain of custody.”
A ballot drop-off at the Edgewood Senior Center is secure, she said. “That box has 24-hour surveillance and our staff will be checking it once a day during the election.”
Clark said, “…Local elections are notoriously under-voted, and those are the people who are making decisions that affect your life for the day-to-day.”
“People who are making decisions in your local government are probably making the most impact on your life,” she added. “It’s the potholes, the garbage, the power. So it’s really important to vote in local elections.”
Early voting in Edgewood can be done in person at the town’s administrative offices located at 171A State Road 344, or in Santa Fe at the County Clerk’s Office.
Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover wants to remind all citizens that there would be no elections if it weren’t for the people who work the polling stations.
“The county clerk employees do not run this election, private citizens do,” she said. “These are the people that are your friends, your neighbors. We are so grateful for the folks that come and work with us because this is a citizen-run election. So, when you go into the polls, be nice to these people. They work long hours, they get little money, and they’re very dedicated to what they do.”
Whether it’s safer to utilize the absentee voting option or absentee-in-person option, Stover says both choices are great ways to stay vigilant.
“If you’re a little bit worried still about getting out with Covid, you can go to berncovotes.org and request an absentee ballot,” she said. “You have to request it; it won’t be sent to you automatically.”
Stover said that, on October 16, Bernalillo County will have 20 locations to vote, including Tijeras Village Hall and a mobile voting unit at the State Fairgrounds.
On Election Day, she said, there will be over 70 polling locations throughout the county.
Stover said “people shouldn’t listen to all this jabber that’s going on around the United States. … New Mexico has probably one of the most secure voting systems in the United States. We are a closed system. We are directly connected to the Secretary of State’s office.”
Stover agrees with Clark that local elections have the potential to be more impactful to voters’ lives than national elections.
“People don’t realize how big this election is,” said Stover. “They just hear all the gobbledygook on the [Albuquerque] mayor’s race and they think that’s it, and it’s really not. It’s a big election. So much bigger than people think it is.”
Yvonne Otero, the Torrance County Clerk, had much to say regarding the security of voters’ ballots.
“I oversee everything,” she said. “I’m involved in everything. I program all of our cards. I’m involved in programming the machines. I store everything in a secured site, in secure safes. We have cameras so nobody can go in and tamper with what we have stored. It is under lock and key. We’re constantly checking just to make sure everything is taken care of.”
Because voting statistics are a matter of public record, said Otero, the tracking of voter data makes it easy to verify whether or not an individual is trying to vote multiple times. She said she’s never seen voter fraud attempted in Torrance County.
Even when it comes to absentee voting, Otero is confident in her county’s ability to effectively track ballots. She also noted that the tabulator machine that counts the votes is constantly being checked to ensure that it is not connected to the web.
“The machine where they insert their ballot is not hooked up at all to the internet,” she said. “The only thing it’s plugged into is the wall for electricity.”
Regarding the most efficient way for residents to cast their votes, Otero said, “It’s pretty much the preference of the individual.”
Persons may drop off absentee ballots in person at two permanently installed ballot boxes at the Moriarty and Mountainair Town Halls; the clerk also has a live video feed monitoring those drop boxes transmitted to her office 24 hours a day.
Otero also believes that voting is a privilege that should be taken advantage of.
“Get your voice heard,” she said. “You want to make a difference? That is the way you make a difference; you get out and vote. It may not happen immediately or the way that you want, but at least you made that effort to try to make that change.”