County clerk candidates face off over voter access issues

Photo by Carson Schneider / NM News Port

 

If you plan on voting, getting married, or obtaining a public record such as a mortgage or lien, the Bernalillo County Clerk’s race is something to watch. Democratic candidate Linda Stover and Republican candidate Maryellen Ortega-Saenz are facing off to fill the shoes of Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who has held the office since 2007.

The Bernalillo County Clerk is responsible for voter registration, election information, poll officials, voter and candidate resources, along with outreach and education efforts. On top of those duties, the county clerk has authority over marriage licenses, including marriage records and information on judges and justices. The county clerk also ensures the accuracy and accessibility of public records.

Voter ID hotly debated

Stover and Ortega-Saenz have opposing views on voter identification. In New Mexico, voter identification law states when registering to vote, first time registrants need to provide identification (ID) in the form of a photo ID, bank statement, or government check. Ortega-Saenz is a proponent of voter ID, while Stover says IDs are restrictive. Stover says more can be done to reach out to potential voters.

Maryellen Ortega-Saenz on protecting the vote

Ortega-Saenz centers her campaign around engaging and educating the community on voting privileges. She says she wants to protect everyone’s vote and make sure those votes are accounted for. She also said she hopes the community will speak up with any concerns.

Ortega-Saenz said she believes if she is elected, she can deliver effective, fair, and honest service to the community. She says her administration will serve with the utmost integrity and impartiality for all Americans. According to her website, she will lead with “compassion, respect, responsibility, accountability and accuracy.”

Maryellen Ortega-Saenz at the NM News Port. Ortega-Saenz says voter IDs will lead to less voter fraud. Photo by Angela Shen / NM News Port
Maryellen Ortega-Saenz at the NM News Port. Ortega-Saenz says voter IDs will lead to less voter fraud. Photo by Angela Shen / NM News Port

Ortega-Saenz says fewer absentee ballots would lead to less voter fraud, as people cannot request ballots for those other than themselves. She also says voter ID is not asking too much because people need IDs for a wide array of tasks anyway.

“I don’t see why they can’t go spend an hour going to vote at one of the early voting sites,” Ortega-Saenz said. “I guess it’s just a matter of choice.”

Absentee ballots allow voters more time to research candidates and issues, so Ortega-Saenz says education is key for voters.

“I think we need more education on the amendments and resolutions that will be available to the public so they can read before they go to the polls,” she said.

Linda Stover on ease of voter access

Stover says she wants to enhance and refine Toulouse Oliver’s policies and procedures, including improving the election process and community interactions with the office . Stover says she wants to improve the current trends of “low voter registration, poor voter turnout for elections, cumbersome and inefficient recording function, and outdated means to access public records.”

“I will support same-day registration and hopefully someday have online voting,” Stover said.

Linda Stover is currently running as a Democrat in the county clerk race. Stover says she wants the public to have easier access to voting resources. Photo courtesy of Linda Stover.
Linda Stover is currently running as a Democrat in the county clerk race. Stover says she wants the public to have easier access to voting resources. Photo courtesy of Linda Stover.

According to her website, Stover says “all eligible voters have the opportunity to vote in an environment in which they are comfortable and that the recording process is efficient and professional.”

Stover says all eligible citizens should experience an obstacle-free voter registration process.

“Voter turnout would be reduced if voter ID laws are implemented,” Stover said. “Especially among the most disadvantaged in our community.”

Stover says she wants to reevaluate voting convenience centers so they can provide better service to everyone in the community.

“I hope to have voting convenience centers close to high-rise senior living facilities so they are more readily available to our senior populations who may have transportation problems and for whatever reason do not want to vote absentee,” Stover said.

Stover says she wants to increase the number of facilities and ensure equal access to everyone in Bernalillo County.

Stover also says she wants to develop an outreach program meeting with disenfranchised groups.

“So we can hear first hand what their concerns are and what they would like to have done in order to better serve them,” Stover said.

Current clerk hopes for continued progress

Toulouse Oliver made many reforms to the clerk’s office in her nine-year term. According to her website, she protected voting rights, improved the integrity of the election process, and ensured accountable leadership. She has also been an outspoken advocate for the establishment of a statewide Ethics Commission. She overhauled how campaign contributions are tracked, reported, and audited.

Campaign sign for Maryellen Ortega-Saenz on Pennsylvania Blvd. Ortega-Saenz is a proponent of Voter ID laws. Photo by Zakary Garcia / NM News Port
Campaign sign for Maryellen Ortega-Saenz on Pennsylvania Blvd. Ortega-Saenz is a proponent of Voter ID laws. Photo by Zakary Garcia / NM News Port

Toulouse Oliver says she wants the next county clerk to further the progress her office started.

“I think that there’s still a lot of new and exciting things the next clerk can take advantage of [including] modernizing and improving the election process,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Toulouse Oliver says she would like to see an automatic voter registration system where people can opt out if they wish. Another possibility is a system where all voters are automatically sent a ballot and they choose how to return it.

“I hope the next clerk will maintain the things that are working well and come to the office with a curiosity about how they can improve things even more so moving forward,” Toulouse Oliver said.

Student says clerk position is vital

Matthew Acosta, a liberal arts major and a University of New Mexico (UNM) senior, says the issues in this race are important to him.

“We’re coming up in this election season, and it matters to me not only as a first-time voter but as a New Mexican that voter rights,voter accessibility and voter privileges are things we can count on,” Acosta said.

A campaign sign for Linda Stover on Wyoming Blvd. and Paseo Del Norte. Stover is an opponent of Voter ID laws. Photo by Angela Shen / NM News Port
A campaign sign for Linda Stover on Wyoming Blvd. and Paseo Del Norte. Stover is an opponent of Voter ID laws. Photo by Angela Shen / NM News Port

Acosta says the county clerk position is vital.

“As citizens, [we] need to assure that we elect the right candidate to do the job,” Acosta said.

Candidates have diverse career histories

Ortega-Saenz is a native New Mexican raised in Albuquerque. She worked in the medical field for 20 years and then owned a security company. Her career history also includes working as a real estate associate broker. She is investing her own money in her campaign. According to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website, she has spent over $4,000 so far.

Stover is from Carlsbad, New Mexico and moved to Albuquerque when she was in junior high school. She attended UNM and was then offered full-time work at a phone company. She worked for both Mountain Bell and Pacific Bell and was a union steward for the Communication Workers of America.

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