FARMINGTON — Monday had the air of the calm before the storm at the San Juan County Clerk's Office, where election judges evaluated absentee ballots and the ballot-counting machine awaited the surge of ballots that is certain to arrive today.

That all changes when polls open at 7 a.m. Lines are expected at some polling places before polls close at 7 p.m.

Results may take several more hours to count.

The Clerk's Office is marshaling 23 Voting Convenience Centers around the 5,513-square-mile county from Aztec to Shiprock and La Plata to Cedar Hill.

The Clerk's Office first used the Voting Convenience Center model in the June primary. It allows voters who reside anywhere in the county to cast their ballots at any of the Voting Convenience Centers; they are not tied to individual precincts.

It proved popular with voters who were able to vote near their workplaces or on errands into town, said County Clerk Debbie Holmes.

"It went well," she said.

Another 12 rural polling places are dispersed across the county's portion of the Navajo Nation. Those use the traditional precinct model.

"I'm hoping for a large turnout," Holmes said.

Many San Juan County voters have already cast their ballots. Early voting ended Saturday, with 22,230 ballots submitted — the most ever for early voting.

In 2008, 18,469 people voted early out of a total of 46,613 ballots cast.

Of this year's early voters, 13,005 were registered Republicans, 6,407 were registered Democrats, 2,290 declined to state an affiliation and 528 belonged to a third party.

Early voting started Oct. 9 at the County Clerk's Office. Four additional sites opened Oct. 20.

Local voters anticipated the outcome of Martin Heinrich and Heather Wilson's battle for U.S. Senate, along with competitive races for New Mexico House and Senate seats and county Commission and judicial races.

If history and voter registration tallies are any guide, local voters can be expected to heavily favor Republican candidates. In 2008, John McCain handily won San Juan County by a 3-to-2 margin over Barack Obama.

Local Republicans have been waiting four years for a rematch against Obama, their hopes illustrated in the scores of Romney-Ryan signs and bumper stickers proliferating around Farmington.

Pat Cordell, chairman of the county Republican Party, said keen interest in the election helped spur early voting.

"I think there's huge enthusiasm, at least on the Republican side, and I think the Democrats that care about the election are voting early," he said.

Diane McCants, chairwoman of the county Democratic Party, said Obama appears to have the edge in swing states and particularly New Mexico.

"We're still pretty strong here," she said. "I'm feeling good about the president's — and really all of our candidates' — chances."

Strong enthusiasm was evident despite a lack of attention from the presidential campaigns to the Farmington area. Neither the Obama nor Mitt Romney campaign saw fit to send their candidates or top surrogates to San Juan County, a red enclave in a largely blue state.

First lady Michelle Obama and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan campaigned nearby in Durango, Colo., in October, and President Obama and Romney stopped elsewhere in New Mexico.

In recent days, the election became an inescapable topic. Cooler heads did not always prevail: one couple was arrested for allegedly spray-painting Obama campaign signs on a drunken outing.

Holmes said the Clerk's Office is ready for the flood of ballots today. Lines should not be too long, although she expressed concern that construction on U.S. Highway 64 could deter voters from going to the Bloomfield Schools Administration Building at 325 N. Bergin Lane, resulting in long lines at the Bloomfield Cultural Center, 333 S. First St.

Holmes said the Clerk's Office would try to update its website, www.sjcclerk.net, with wait times throughout the day.

In a scene repeated across the country, Sherri Sipe, Anne Frost and Donna Tucker evaluated absentee ballots in the County Commission's meeting room Monday. Many of the ballots were submitted by email from military service members serving overseas.

Sipe, a Republican, and Tucker, a Democrat, said they don't fight over the ballots they see.

"We're usually always in consent as far as what the (voter's) intent was," Tucker said.

Cordell was among the election judges looking over ballots Monday. "My understanding is it's gone pretty well," he said.

Local Democratic and Republican officials were expecting a late night watching the returns come in.

For candidates, voters and the rest who make democracy run, Election Day brings an end to all of the stump speeches, the endless flurry of mailings and the ominous TV ads. Voters will cast their ballots. They will be counted. And soon enough, their verdict will be rendered for all to see.

Daily Times reporter Ryan Boetel contributed to this report.