Clerks ask for primary by mail
April 1, 2020
More than two dozen county clerks in New Mexico — including two in eastern New Mexico — have asked the state Supreme Court for an order that would allow the June 2 primary be conducted by mail.
But on Tuesday, the Republican Party of New Mexico and the House and Senate Caucuses filed a lawsuit in the New Mexico Supreme Court to block those efforts.
The clerks said they face an impossible choice — putting voters’ and election workers’ lives at risk or violating their oath of office — if they host an in-person election.
“The state of New Mexico faces a public health emergency unprecedented in modern times,” the clerks stated in their petition, filed Monday.
Quay County’s Ellen White and De Baca County’s Rosalie Gonzales-Joiner were among the petitioners.
White stated in a letter Tuesday to Quay County’s Republican and Democratic chairs that more than 90% of buildings used for New Mexico’s elections are closed because of the pandemic, and clerks face a May 2 deadline to inspect and certify those sites.
She also stated many precinct workers are age 60 and over — a high-risk segment for the virus.
“Workers do not want to and should not be asked to be exposed to this virus unnecessarily and put their lives at risk, much less expose thousands of New Mexicans, including my staff and vendors,” White wrote.
But Republicans, in a news release issued Tuesday, said a vote-by-mail election “bypasses the Legislature and invites statewide fraud. Republicans contend the clerks’ petition violates the New Mexico Constitution and the State’s separation of powers.”
“We oppose the county clerks’ request because the method offers no ballot security and could lead to voting violations. While everyone understands and appreciates the health and safety concerns during this pandemic, a VBM election provides no vote protection, no ability to control and track ballots or who is voting after ballots are mailed out,” the Republican Party news release read.
The 27 clerks — mostly Democrats but including five Republicans — argued that poll workers are scared to work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The clerks would open some sites to aid voters who must vote in person and for people to drop off ballots. But the election otherwise would happen by mail, with ballots sent to each active voter.
Immediate action is required, the petition argues, because of approaching deadlines. Absentee and early voting begin May 5, though overseas voters are mailed ballots in April.
Republican leaders said they support what the law currently allows — mail-in absentee ballots, which are tracked and monitored and require voters to present identification, according to the GOP news release.
“This is not a partisan issue, but an election law issue,” Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, said in the release. “We cannot have the integrity of New Mexico’s elections tainted or stolen because of lack of security in the mail ballot process. “Such a Court decision could change the face of elections.”