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New Mexico Vote-by-Mail: Matters of the Primary and State Election Laws

This report details the existing voting landscape in New Mexico, examines some of its shortcomings, and proposes a series of remedies to ensure that all voters have an equitable opportunity to cast their ballot in November and beyond. This is an ideal time to consider these issues given that voting laws may feature in the deliberations of the special legislative session this week.

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New Mexico Vote-by-Mail: Matters of the Primary and State Election Laws

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Overview:

New Mexico’s Primary Election had a turnout of just under 402,000, which is the highest voter turnout in state history. Having a no-excuse absentee voting in New Mexico was also a beneficial option for voters to have in the midst of COVID-19. However, there were still several issues with the Primary that brought up some concern in regards to the election in November.

The state Supreme Court had issued an order on April 14th to mail all eligible voters an absentee ballot application to request a mail-in ballot. The application was also available online. In order to obtain an absentee ballot, the voter’s application needed to be received by May 28. To return their absentee ballot voters could either mail it in no later than 7 p.m. on Election Day, deliver it in-person to the County Clerk’s office, or drop it off at an alternative voting site or regular polling locations. Having said that, there were different challenges that arose and should be addressed by the November election.

New Mexicans still face election issues in spite of different measures put in place that are meant to help voters. For one, there is a lack of a curing period and sometimes voters are not contacted about their rejected ballot. Secondly, early voting sites and Election Day polling sites were significantly reduced by 21 fewer early voting sites and 167 fewer Election Day sites. Furthermore, the language for the deadline of absentee voting is confusing and unnecessary. Voters are left trying to calculate the time in which it will take for the County Clerk to receive their ballot. Native Americans especially face burdens when it comes to a mail-only voting system. Native Americans do not have traditional street addresses, thus, having to resort to receiving their mail at another’s residence. This leads to the burden of some Native Americans having to drive out 50 miles to access their absentee ballot. Additionally, some reservations closed their borders due to COVID-19, which also leads to them having to travel to access their absentee ballot. Election materials in New Mexico also do not meet the language access mandate. The election materials are not published in Navajo, Apache, or Ute, which disproportionately rejects Native American’s ballots.

Overall, the state of New Mexico needs to update current election laws to accommodate new challenges. They should canvass all absentee ballots postmarked on Election Day or received up to seven days after Election Day. Establish a robust curing process for rejected ballots. Allow absentee ballot collection at designated sites for Native voters. Lastly, create voting sites on or adjacent to Tribal lands that are restricted to and staffed by residents of those communities.

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