Rep. Christine Chandler, top right, is joined by Rep. Joy Garratt of Bernalillo County, top left, and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver for a Sept. 30 forum on the upcoming general election. Screenshot/Los Alamos Reporter
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver told participants in a Sept. 30 online town hall hosted by Rep. Christine Chandler and Rep. Joy Garratt that she and county clerks around the state are working really hard to get ready for the really important date of Tuesday, Oct. 6 and the several weeks to follow until election day Nov. 3.
Toulouse Oliver spoke at length about the steps the state is taking to ensure the security of the upcoming election. She noted that Chandler and Garratt have been extremely involved in looking at election law and election processes in New Mexico.
“I consider myself lucky as someone who has to implement policy to be able to work with policymakers who really care about the election process and about the voting process and about getting it right for our citizens. I think it’s really appropriate that they are hosting this particular forum tonight,” she said.
Toulouse Oliver said absentee ballots have already been mailed to overseas and military voters who are not currently in this country or on active military duty. On Tuesday, Oct. 6, the process of mailing ballots to everyone who applied for an absentee ballot will begin. Oct. 6 is also the day folks can start voting in person at their clerk’s office and is the deadline if for registering to vote online or in advance of going to vote in the election.
In the New Mexico primary election in June, Toulouse Oliver said there was a record voter turnout for a primary and a record absentee turnout in a given election with about 65 percent of all ballots cast being absentee.
“I think that’s really huge and really interesting and one of the things we learned from conducting that primary election with so many absentee voters is that our absentee process wasn’t necessarily intuitive or easy for first time absentee voters. So we took a lot of steps, including in the legislative session this summer, to improve and streamline the absentee voting process,” she said.
The voter information portal for the state of New Mexico is at NMVote.org. Toulouse Oliver said voters can actually track the status of their absentee ballot applications and absentee ballots.
“One of the things our two representatives did along with our colleagues this summer is they made it a requirement that we have an intelligent mail barcode on the outside of every ballot envelope so you’ll actually be able to see once ballots begin to mailed out exactly where the ballot is in the mail service process – if it’s out for delivery, and when you mail it back, where it is in that process,” she said. “We’ve given every individual voter the ability to track their ballot as well as election officials and the postal service so that we can do our jobs in making sure your ballot gets back to be counted timely.”
There are only two pieces of information required to return an absentee ballot – the voter’s signature and the last four digits of their social security number.
“Those are two pieces of information that you have and your county clerk has but nobody else has, so that your ballot can be counted and qualified. We created a process so that if worst case scenario happens and you had a COVID-brain moment and forgot to sign your ballot or you transposed the last four digits of your social security number, your county clerk is going to make sure you know within 24 hours that they need more information from you to be able to count your ballot. They’ll give you a form to fill out and return either by mail or email to get that fixed,” she said.
Toulouse Oliver said that she really wants folks to know that if some if something happens and they don’t get their ballot in the mail or if their cat knocks their coffee all over their ballot, they can request a replacement ballot either through the mail or just go in person to any polling location and ask for that replacement ballot. They can sign a replacement affidavit and vote there in person. She said that’s a question she has been hearing a lot lately.
“I want folks to have tremendous confidence in not only the absentee process and our ability to get the vote done in a timely manner here in New Mexico, but also voting in person because we do know that many people will want to vote in person this election. I want to encourage you if you’re somebody who chooses to vote that way, vote early, vote on election day,” Toulouse Oliver said.
She noted that COVID-safe practices will be in place at every polling location throughout the state with personal protective equipment provided and social distancing implemented. CDC guidelines will be followed at every polling place to make sure the risk of transmission is very low. Every voter will be asked to wear a mask and masks will be provided for voters who show up without one.
“We’re also providing an opportunity for drop boxes in every polling location so that if you have an absentee ballot and you just really don’t want to mail it back, you can just either quickly walk into your polling place and drop it in that drop box or right outside of your polling place,” Toulouse Oliver said. “If you do put it in the mail, give it seven days. Make sure you get that ballot in the mail by Oct. 27 and it’s postage-paid so you don’t have to buy stamps. Your ballot is going to get back to the County Clerk as long as you get it back in by Oct. 27.”
She reminded participants that in New Mexico, ballots have to come in before 7 p.m. on election night.
“That is the deadline. We don’t have postmark deadline here so ballots have to be received by 7 p.m.,” she said.
Toulouse Oliver bottom line advice for voters is to apply for their absentee ballot now if they haven’t already.
“Give yourself a day or two to do your research but make sure to drop it in the mail or at any polling location in the state as soon as you can. Don’t wait until the last minute. That’s what causes long lines. That’s what causes some particular challenges to counting ballots. If you get your ballots in more quickly, we can count them more quickly. Your county clerks are all geared up and ready to do just that so that we have a safe, accurate election and we know the results in a timely manner,” she said.
Chandler noted that Los Alamos County voters can go to the Los Alamos County Clerk’s webpage.
“All the things the Secretary of State discussed are being implemented here in Los Alamos including the voting drop boxes which provide the contact-free ability to drop off your absentee ballots,” she said.
Toulouse Oliver answered multiple questions which had been submitted in advance as well as from Chandler and Garratt.