A decision this week by the New Mexico Supreme Court means that the June 2 primary election will go ahead on schedule—but not as planned.

The decision requires county clerks to send an absentee ballot application to all voters registered in a major party: Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. Anyone registered in another political party, or “declines to state,” is not eligible to vote in the primary election.

Twenty-seven county clerks had petitioned the Supreme Court to allow a mostly mail-in vote for the primary, amid an ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has disrupted nearly every aspect of society. The intention was to send absentee ballots to those voters.

Justices heard from attorneys representing the petitioners, the state’s Republican, Democratic and Libertarian parties and others as they considered alternatives. Those weighing in with briefs or testimony included the League of Women Voters, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Navajo Nation, Disability Rights New Mexico and others.

The Court decided that county clerks don’t have authority to send absentee ballots unless requested by the voter, but said they could send out applications for those ballots.

Absentee voting is a multi-step process ordinarily: First a voter requests a ballot application from the county clerk, then fills it out and sends it back to the clerk, who then sends out an absentee ballot. The voter then fills out the ballot and returns it to the county clerk.

Torrance County Clerk Linda Jaramillo said she does have enough election workers, and said her staff is working on how to sterilize the polling locations—which under this court decision will all be open as usual—between voters.

County clerks including Jaramillo and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver, encourage voters to vote by absentee ballot unless voting in person can’t be avoided.

The deadline to register to vote, or to update voter registration in order to vote in the June 2 primary election is May 5.

Voters have until May 28 to apply for an absentee ballot if they have not received one. The ballot itself must be returned to the county clerk, at any polling location or at the clerk’s office, by 7 p.m. on June 2.

“My office will be working with all County Clerks to ensure that all of the polling places we are required by law to staff and equip have the personal protection equipment needed to make in-person voting as safe as possible for all New Mexicans who choose to utilize it,” Toulouse-Oliver said in a statement to the press after the decision.

Jaramillo said every ballot will be counted. Those voting in person will only be allowed in two at a time, plus three pollworkers, she said. Between voters, the election workers will sanitize everything.

“My only hope is that everyone gets and absentee ballot,” Jaramillo said.

The Supreme Court hearing was livestreamed by KNME on YouTube.

To contact the Torrance County Clerk’s office, call 505-544-4350 or email ljaramillo@tcnm.us.

To contact the Santa Fe County Clerk’s office, call 505-982-6280 or email gsalazar@santafecountynm.gov.

To contact the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office, call 505-243-VOTE or email clerk@bernco.gov.

The Secretary of State’s website is sos.state.nm.us; information about absentee voting and registering to vote is on the home page.

Leota Harriman
Leota Harriman

Leota started working for The Independent in 2006, working her way up through the ranks. An employee buyout in 2010 led to her ownership of the newspaper. Leota has served on the board of the N.M. Press Association, and is currently its First Vice President. She is passionate about health and wellness, especially mental health, and loves making art. She can be reached at news.ind.editor@gmail.com.