With only a few days to go until primary election day in New Mexico, Lea County is seeing a turnout slightly outpacing what took place in 2018 during the primary.
Lea County Clerk Keith Manes, who is also on the ballot but running unopposed, said the numbers of absentee ballots being returned, along with early voting totals, are on pace with 2018.
Lea County had the dubious distinction of posting the worst voter turnout rate among counties in the state 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 the 2018 primaries.
“We mailed out 3,859 absentee ballots,” Manes said, noting that a registered voter must be a member of one of the three recognized “major” parties in New Mexico in order to take part in the primary elections, and that voter must have requested an absentee ballot in order to be sent one. “We have received back 2,382 so far. So there are only 1,477 still out.”
The three major parties recognized in New Mexico are Republican, Democrat, and Libertarian.
And while there were a low number of absentee ballots requested, especially after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, have both pushed to have a majority of voters stay home and use absentee ballots, Manes said early in-person voting has been a little better than expected.
“The annex has been really busy. They’ve had 865 voters so far,” Manes said.
He also noted the Event Center has seen 460 people cast early ballots in person, while the courthouse has had 632, Eunice last
Friday and Saturday had 154 in person votes, and Jal had early voting Friday and Saturday, with 28 voters as of noon on Friday.
With the 3,859 returned absentee ballots, combined with the 2,139 in-person early voting (as of noon on Friday), means that about 5,998 Lea County primary voters have made their choices known in the many contested races.
Manes did point out absentee ballots are still coming back in daily, and those ballots can be received until polls close on election day, either through the mail, or dropped at a polling location.
“We’re getting about couple hundred (absentee) ballots back every day,” he said. “We can receive those ballots until 7 p.m. on election day. And they can actually drop their ballot off at a polling location on election day, as long as it’s before 7 p.m.”
Some races have drawn state-wide and national attention for some of the negative campaign ads by both the candidates and outside political action committees (PACs), and some thought the added exposure might see a significant uptick in the number of voters who turn out. So far, as evidenced by the numbers, it has only been a slight trickle more.
And, some pundits blame the current COVID-19 climate for playing a part in lower voter turnout/absentee ballots in the county, and in the difficulty some campaigns have found in getting their message out to prospective voters.
Whatever the outcome, for candidates and for voter turnout, results will not be tabulated and known until Tuesday night when the polls close on election day, and all in-person votes are also counted.
“Those machines are not closed out until Tuesday night, so we don’t have any results, and don’t know what they are until then,” Manes said.