County commission opposes all-mail primary
April 15, 2020
CLOVIS — In a special meeting scheduled to weigh in on an argument to the New Mexico Supreme Court, the Curry County Commission opposed an appeal by county clerks to hold the June 2 primary as an all-mail election.
The state’s highest court was set to begin oral arguments on the matter Tuesday afternoon, and the county resolution that passed by a 4-1 vote is expected to be presented as an exhibit.
A group of 27 county clerks across the state asked the court March 30 to allow a mail-in election because of safety and logistical concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The New Mexico Republican Party filed a lawsuit to block such an election, stating it prefers citizens request absentee ballots and that a mail-in election “invites statewide fraud.”
Curry County Clerk Annie Hogland’s name was included on the GOP filing, but she has said she has no stance on the matter and her office will conduct the primary election as instructed by the state.
Five states conduct all elections by mail, and New Mexico is one of at least 21 other states that conducts some of its smaller elections by mail.
Commissioner Seth Martin led the 30-minute discussion by noting election law falls under the purview of the Legislature under the state constitution, and that he like the GOP had concerns about the integrity of an election with ballots sent unrequested to all registered voters.
“As I see it,” Martin said, “the actual petition before us is not legal, and I would like to see Curry County commissioners vote to oppose this petition to go to an all mail-in ballot.”
Commissioner Bobby Sandoval, who cast the dissenting vote, believed the health and safety of residents should be the primary concern
“We’re supposed to be making it easier for our constituents to vote,” Sandoval said, “not making it harder.”
He believed the health and safety of residents should be the primary concern, and asked if it was worth voters getting sick and dying to prove a constitutional point.
“I don’t know if this is going to have any bearing at all on what the judge decides,” Sandoval said. “Right now, I’m more worried about the elderly people who are going to have to work at the elections and see hundreds and hundreds of people all day long.”
Sandoval said in conversations with prior county clerks, there was no recollection of voter fraud in Curry County. He didn’t ask Hogland, but presumed the same was true for her. Hogland told The News following the meeting she had not encountered any instances of voter fraud since joining the office in 2017.
Martin said he had no concerns about election fraud in the county and that he was confident in Hogland and her staff. But he said an all-mail election hasn’t been done on a county-wide basis, and doing so creates the opportunity for fraud because ballots will go to every registered voter’s address.
Spear echoed those sentiments. He felt it was unfair to question the county’s concerns about public health and noted there was no reason poll workers couldn’t wear masks and other personal protective equipment.
“If you have any concerns whatsoever, you have ample, ample opportunity to request a ballot, and you have to identify yourself to do that,” Spear said, adding that voter registration lists in New Mexico are a mess. “Tens of thousands of ballots will be sent to addresses where the voter no longer resides, which could result in thousands of people never receiving a ballot, or equally troubling people could vote under another person's name and nobody would even know it.”
Spear said “there’s wide-scale fraud throughout the country that has been proven over and over again,” but gave no specific examples.
Commissioner Robert Thornton agreed with Spear, saying everybody does have the opportunity to vote without going to a polling site. He doesn’t have a problem with absentee ballots, but “shotgun mailing ballots to everyone who’s ever been registered to vote, that’s not a very good idea.”
Before calling for the vote, Martin said he appreciated the discussion and felt it was a good thing commissioners didn’t simply agree on everything, even if it meant a more difficult meeting over conference call.
In other business at the Monday meeting:
• County Manager Lance Pyle noted in responses to the U.S. Census, Curry County is just ahead of the state average, and both are lagging behind the national average.
As of Saturday, Pyle said, Curry County’s response rate was 37.7%, compared to 36.9% statewide, while nationally a 47.9% rate has been reported.
• Pyle also informed the commission New Mexico counties would not hold a 2020 conference due to COVID-19 pandemic concerns.
• The next commission meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday.