By Sayre Key-Towne / NM News Port
Election watchdogs are keeping their eyes on the general election balloting in New Mexico to ensure no votes are overlooked or suppressed.
Heather Ferguson, executive director of Common Cause of New Mexico, gives Albuquerque and Bernalillo County good marks for keeping elections accessible.
“I do not believe [voter] suppression exists in Bernalillo,” Ferguson said. “The boundaries of voting are different all over New Mexico, but Bernalillo has the most people.”
That said, Ferguson fears the state’s large, sparsely populated areas present a bigger challenge in delivering everyone’s vote.
“More rural places like Valencia County or Belen have a harder time getting everyone to the polls,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson also said that Native American pueblos and reservations in New Mexico do not have equal access to the polls.
“Since the primaries, state officials have been making efforts to ensure greater access to the people on reservations prior to Nov. 3,” Ferguson said. “Now that early voting is over, it’s super important to make sure the entire state has access to the polls.”
According to the University of New Mexico’s Center for Social Policy, New Mexico’s current election laws “proved inadequate to avoid disproportionately disenfranchising Native American voters” during a pandemic.
Ferguson said the pandemic has forced many more people to rely on mail-in ballots this year and that has created concerns where the mail is not reliable.
“It was advised that people drop off their mail-in ballots, even before early voting was over. It took me about 11 days to get my ballot after I requested it. And cities like Las Cruces have their mail sent through El Paso, stuff like that. I would personally drop the ballot off to ensure your vote is counted,” Ferguson said, calling the postal service “squirrely.”
State officials do not believe that there are any significant barriers to voting in New Mexico, particularly in Bernalillo County.
Linda Stover, Bernalillo county clerk, said voters in her service area will find a level field, adding that there are 70 different voting locations across the county.
Online, there are maps and directions to each voting spot, according to Floyd Vasquez from the Bernalillo County Clerk’s office.
When asked if any of the election requirements border along the lines of voter suppression, Stover gave a hard “no.”
Still, New Mexico is one of 19 states that disallows people with felonies to vote. This policy is known as felony disenfranchisement, which disproportionately affects Black and Latino men.
At least 38,000 New Mexicans were not eligible to vote because of felony convictions. There have been recent bills that have attempted to give voting access to those with felonies, but the bills have died in legislative committees.
During the June primary, the state of New Mexico rejected 1,300 absentee ballots. The state is expanding its absentee voting for the general election. Early voting has already set a record for early turn-out. It remains to be seen how many absentee ballots may be rejected from the general election.
When asked about voting barriers in New Mexico, Stover said, “As far as requirements, however, you must not be a felon, first of all. You must be a resident of New Mexico, registered to vote and be 18 years of age. There are no real hoops to go through, none of the voting barriers are too bad.”
Sayre Key-Towne is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.