By Devin Muzzey and Dalton Padilla / NM News Port
Early voting in New Mexico officially commenced Oct. 17, and data show the state is already breaking records in voter turnout in what is shaping up to be one of the most pivotal elections in recent memory.
One concern driving early voting — whether by mail or in-person — is COVID-19 still looming over the state.
36-year-old Aaron Scott, father of two, chose to vote early in-person at Holly Plaza Shopping Center.
“They had several people to check you in, several people to check you out. They had someone walking around wiping things down. You can tell they are prepared as they reasonably can be,” Scott said.
His wife, Dani, was surprised by the wait.
“We’ve never seen a line like this,” she said.
“Other years when we voted early, we’d walk in and there would be nobody here,” Aaron said.
New Mexico has been trending toward more and more early voting. The overall share of in-person early voting has increased by 10% in every election since 2014, according to the Election Administration and Voting Survey.
As recently as Oct. 25, there have been over 567,000 votes cast in the Land of Enchantment. This figure exceeds the total number of early votes cast in 2018, as well as the last presidential election in 2016 and every other election before that.
Democrats have cast 286,639 votes and Republicans have cast 196,994.
This year, the use of mail-in ballots is more prevalent than in years past, though not as prevalent as early in-person voting. Yet, with concerns over COVID-19 driving the use of absentee ballots, the mailed ballots represent nearly half of all votes counted so far in the state.
Tabulations also show registered Democrats resorting to mail ballots more than registered Republicans.
More Republicans have voted in-person, with nearly three quarters of their votes in the state made at a polling location.
New Mexico has more registered Democrats than Republicans — 603,039 to 413,605.
Siblings Brianna and Nick Havens are first-time voters. Despite the pandemic, they headed to the polls in Bernalillo County last weekend in order to avoid potentially long lines and overwhelming crowds on Election Day.
“I think they’re taking some pretty good precautions,” Nick Havens said.
“I could contract the virus anywhere else just as easily like the grocery store, shopping, even work,” Brianna Havens said. “So I feel like I’m as safe as I can be.”
Although eligible to vote in 2016, Brianna Havens said she was not as motivated then to decide on important policy issues or who would become the next commander-in-chief. But this time around, she feels she has plenty of reason to make her voice heard.
“With everything going on with coronavirus, there’s a lot of important issues that need to be worked on that I feel passionate about,” Havens said. “So I feel like this is the time to vote.”
23-year-old Reed Muehlmeyer is a University of New Mexico graduate and 19-year-old Saxon Fleming is a current UNM student. Together, they turned out to vote early in-person.
“I think it’s probably one of the most important things you can do during the pandemic,” Muehlmeyer said, indicating it could be more dangerous to brave large crowds on Election Day.
“Obviously there are people that can’t vote early but if you have an opportunity to not be a part of that crowd, there’s no point,” Fleming said.
In Bernalillo County, over 12,800 people voted on Oct. 17, a new record for the first day.
There are 18 locations in Bernalillo County where registered voters can cast their votes early.
The last day to vote early in Bernalillo County is Oct. 31. The final recommended day to mail in your absentee ballot in New Mexico was Oct. 27. Now, voters should hand deliver their ballots at designated sites.
“We would vote one way or the other but everything right now is a dumpster fire, so I think there is more of an obligation to get involved,” Aaron Scott said.
Devin Muzzey is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter @MuzzeyDevin or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dalton Padilla is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be reached on Twitter @journalistdalt or at email@example.com.