Hobbs News Sun

Lea voter turnout worst in N.M.

Lea voter turnout worst in N.M.

Lea County had the dubious distinction last week of posting the worst voter turnout rate among counties in the state, while a handful of New Mexico counties exceeded 50 percent voter turnout in the 2018 primaries.

According to data from the New Mexico secretary of state’s office, 18.54 percent, or 4,663 of Lea County’s 25,151 eligible voters, cast ballots in last week’s primaries. Those totals include Election Day voting, as well as early and absentee voting. Only voters registered as Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians were eligible to vote in the closed primaries.

Eddy County had the second lowest voter turnout rate last week of 18.85 percent, with 4,629 of Eddy County’s 24,553 eligible voters casting ballots.

By contrast, nearby Chaves County had a 27.93 percent voter turnout, with 7,024 of that county’s 25,151 registered eligible voters casting ballots.

Meanwhile, voter turnout last week in three of the state’s counties, Guadalupe, Mora and Harding, exceeded 50 percent, with Mora posting the best turnout in the state of 56 percent.

Carrie Sandoval, bureau of elections administrator for Lea County, said Lea County typically has a low voter turnout rate.

“Not usually as low as it was, but yeah, we usually have a low turnout,” Sandoval said. “If you have some ideas, send them my way. We put in on the radio, we put it in the newspaper. I’m not sure why it’s such a low turnout.”

Voter turnout of Lea County Republicans for last week’s primary was almost twice that of Lea County Democrats. There were contested federal and statewide races for both Democrats and Republicans, although there were no local contested races among Democrats. A three-way Republican primary for Lea County sheriff and two contested Republican primary races for magistrate judge were the only local offices contested among Republicans.

A total of 973 of Lea County’s 8,457 registered Democrats voted in their primary, or 11.5 percent, according to data from the Lea County clerk’s office.

A total of 3,680 of Lea County’s 16,489 registered Republicans voted in last week’s elections, or 22.3 percent.

A total of 10 of Lea County’s 205 registered Libertarians cast ballots, or 4.9 percent.

Voters registered with other political parties, or who have declined to state a party political, were ineligible to vote in the Democratic, Republican and Libertarian primaries of June 2018.

There were 8,052 registered voters in Lea County who had no party affiliation, and 337 registered voters of other political parties, as of last week’s elections, Sandoval said.

Ann Batson, chair of the Republican Party of Lea County, said the triple-digit temperatures in recent weeks and lack of opposition in several races were probably factors in the low turnout.

“Outside of the fact that it’s been 102 and 104 (degrees), people are just absolutely staying in,” Batson said. “Like in the north when there’s a blizzard, people can’t get to the polls. Some of it was the heat, but some it was we didn’t have opposition in a lot of races.

“I think we had a lousy turnout and that’s the only two reasons I can think of that we did.”

Batson said a better voter turnout rate was expected with the contested Republican race for sheriff.

“Enthusiasm means a lot, lots of things mean a lot,” she said. “I don’t think any two races are alike, or any two years are alike. You have different things for every big race. I really don’t know why the turnout wasn’t better in the primary except most races there was no opposition. That makes a difference and people say, ‘Oh, well.’”

Batson said Lea County historically has a much better turnout rate than 18.5 percent, noting the good turnout in the general election of 2004 when George W. Bush won New Mexico.

“We always work to bring out the voters,” she said. “We do what we can do. We try all the time in every race, so we’ll be working hard in November to get a good turnout.”

Trish Ruiz, chair of the Democratic Party of Lea County, could not be reached for comment as of press time.