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AZTEC — San Juan County Clerk Tanya Shelby said a record number of voters have requested absentee ballots for the June 2 primary election.

As of May 19 when she spoke to the County Commission, Shelby’s office had sent out 10,203 absentee ballots. Of those, Shelby said 2,626 voters have filled out and returned their absentee ballots.

In contrast, Shelby said the county clerk’s office sent out 1,235 absentee ballots during the 2016 primary election and 1,036 voters filled those ballots out and returned them.

This year’s primary election is different than the 2016 primary election because officials are pushing absentee voting rather than in-person voting. This push for people to vote using absentee ballots is an effort to keep both voters and poll workers safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Each registered voter that is eligible to vote in a primary election – meaning they are affiliated with the Democratic, Republican or Libertarian parties – received post cards inviting them to request an absentee ballot. Those who did not request an absentee ballot early on were later mailed absentee ballot applications.

In addition, Shelby said 1,061 people voted early either at the County Clerk’s office or at one of the alternative sites that opened for early voting on May 16. Shelby said 13,376 voters casts ballots in person during the 2016 primary election.

“So the voters are definitely voting absentee for this election,” Shelby said.

Shelby said her office had planned for a busy year, but the focus shifted because of the virus.

“Everybody’s folding ballots and putting labels on envelopes,” she said.

Commission Chairman Jack Fortner asked her when she could start opening the returned ballots and beginning the counting process.

Shelby said a recent change in state law made it so the counting process can begin when a certain number of ballots have been sent out rather than having to wait until five days before the election.

“Because we have reached the 10,000 mark, we could actually have started today,” she said. “We will be starting early. I have not confirmed the exact date yet.”

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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