San Juan County Clerk's Office catches ballot request mailed in for deceased woman
AZTEC — Election officials at the state and county level say safeguards that are in place to prevent voter fraud caught an absentee ballot request that a San Juan County resident said she mistakenly filled out — and a household member mistakenly mailed without her knowledge — for her deceased mother.
While the San Juan County Clerk’s Office was processing absentee ballot request forms in August, a worker found two request forms with matching handwriting. While verifying the information on the ballot, the clerk's office determined that one of the forms was for a woman who had died in April at a Farmington long-term care facility. The other form was from her daughter.
Now that daughter, Gidget Mayes-Linton, of Farmington, is facing charges of misleading on an absentee ballot request form and false voting. She said it was an honest mistake that never should have happened.
Both charges are fourth-degree felonies and summons to appear in court were issued Oct. 14.
Unsolicited absentee ballot request forms created confusion
The San Juan County incident started with the absentee ballot request forms sent out to voters throughout the state by a third-party group not connected to either the county clerk or the Secretary of State’s Office.
This form, said Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, did spark confusion and it is not entirely surprising that the confusion led the daughter to fill out the form for her mother.
Not being a regular voter or understanding the terminology, Mayes-Linton said she kept receiving the form and thought she had to fill it out. She said she thought it was asking if she and her mother planned to be absent, or not vote, in this year’s general election.
After filling it out, she contacted her brother, who works for the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office, and asked him about the form. He told her not to send it in and if more forms came to write deceased on them and return them to the sender.
She told The Daily Times she put the form aside and had no intention of sending it in, but another member of the household picked it up with the rest of the mail and mailed it to the county clerk.
She tearfully said that she did not know the ballot request form had even been mailed until a detective with the Sheriff’s Office called her. That phone call, according to the court records, occurred on Sept. 24.
“It’s a confusing thing when you’re not always a voter,” she said.
She emphasized that she had no intention of voting on her mother’s behalf.
“I would never jeopardize anything like that,” she said.
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Safeguards against voter fraud worked
“My office received an absentee ballot application for a voter that we show passed away in April 2020,” said San Juan County Clerk Tanya Shelby via email. “We were able to identify the application was completed by an individual that lived at the same address. I was able to determine through vital records that the voter was truly deceased. At that time, I turned the information over the (San Juan County) District Attorney’s office for investigation.”
She emphasized that no absentee ballot was sent out.
“All absentee ballot applications go through a verification process prior to my office sending out an absentee ballot,” Shelby said.
While some politicians have throughout the 2020 election cycle expressed concerns about potential voter fraud, the evidence suggests voter fraud is rare.
Both Shelby and Curtas, spokesman for the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office, said there are safeguards in place to prevent ballots from being sent out to people who are deceased.
Curtas said even if the county clerk’s office had not caught the ballot request form, there are procedures that ensure people only vote once. Curtas emphasized that voting on behalf of somebody else or any attempt to manipulate the electoral system is a felony. He said incidents like this one in San Juan County are rare.
ELECTION 2020:Your election integrity questions answered
The Las Cruces Sun News reported that county clerk's offices also receive a monthly certified list from the Secretary of State's Office of deceased residents to remove from the voter rolls. New Mexico is also part of a consortium of 30 states and Washington, D.C. that share and crosscheck federal and state data. This allows them to remove voters from the rolls who have died or moved to another state.
While election fraud has been a talking point for politicians, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law found that the number of actual incidents of voter fraud is statistically zero.
Curtas said the moment a person casts a ballot, whether it is in person or by mail, that is recorded in a system that prevents the voter from then going to another site and voting a second time. Or, in the case of an absentee ballot, the voter would not then be able to vote in person.
Voters can also track the status of their absentee ballots at nmvote.org.
Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at email@example.com.