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State Republican Party opposes a mail-ballot only election, citing concerns about voter fraud

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AZTEC — With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the country, most people agree that going to the polls on June 2 could put voters and volunteer poll workers at risks.

But the Republican Party of New Mexico opposes a proposal to have a vote-by-mail election, which was proposed by a coalition of county clerks.

The New Mexico Supreme Court is considering the arguments on both sides. 

Alex Curtas, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Secretary of State's Office, said Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and many county clerks in New Mexico believe an all-mail primary election is the best way to keep voters safe while conducting a fair, efficient election during the current public health crisis.

San Juan County residents may remember the vote-by-mail election last fall when every registered voter in Aztec, Bloomfield and Central Consolidated School District boundaries received a ballot in the mail regarding mill levies.

Republican Party of New Mexico Chairman Steve Pearce said that format could allow for increased voter fraud. He explained that voters don’t always update their addresses and people could receive someone else’s ballot in the mail and return it.

"It's very difficult to prove who actually cast that ballot," he said.

There are other states that have vote-by-mail elections, including Utah.

But Pearce said the other states have machines to scan the ballots and verify that the signature matches the one on record.

That doesn’t mean that the Republican Party wants people going to the polling locations to cast ballots, though. Pearce said the state should conduct the primary election through absentee ballots only. That could mean the state would send out postcards to all registered voters with instructions about how to get an absentee ballot.

"We're all trying to find a way to keep our voters safe," Pearce said.

Toulouse Oliver is already encouraging all voters to request and absentee ballot. The deadline to request absentee ballots is May 5.

While Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians all have their own ballots for the June election, Pearce said the county clerks run the elections, so it would be impossible to have the Democratic Party primary election be a vote by mail election and the Republican Party election be an absentee-ballot election.

Curtas said Pearce’s idea for the absentee-ballot election would still require poll workers to be at the voting centers throughout the state because of requirements in the state’s election code. That is what the Secretary of State’s Office and the county clerks do not want to see.

“It's important to note that the entire reason for the request for an all-mail election is to keep New Mexicans safe while allowing them to exercise their civic duty,” Curtas said.

If the state Supreme Court grants the petition for a mail-ballot election every voter in the state who is registered with a major party — Republican, Democrat or Libertarian — will receive a ballot except for voters who have had official mail from either the Secretary of State’s Office or a county clerk returned as undeliverable. Voters who have a national change of address form on file with the U.S. Postal Service will not receive a ballot.

Prior to the ballots being sent, registered voters will receive notification postcards alerting them to the change in the election process.

There will still be in-person voter service centers available for specific circumstances. For example, a person with a disability or a language barrier can drop the ballot off at the centers, register to vote, update certain information on existing voter registration or request a replacement ballot.

These changes would not be permanent and may not impact the general election

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.

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