County working to make sure absentee ballots with no return address reach clerk's office

John R. Moses
Farmington Daily Times

AZTEC – Some absentee ballots sent out by San Juan County this year lacked a key component – a return address on the envelope.

“On October 11th, the San Juan County Clerk’s office began mailing absentee ballots to the voters that requested them for the 2022 General election,” said San Juan County Clerk Tanya Shelby in a news release. “I was made aware that the return envelope for the ballot was not printed with the address for the San Juan County Clerk’s Office.”

"This error affected 1,973 ballots," county spokesperson Devin Neeley said on the morning of Oct. 20. "We have received back 735 ballots." Neeley noted that ballot counts are continuously changing.

“The return address has historically been printed on the envelope by our vendor. We regret the unfortunate omission and rectified the problem before any further ballots were mailed to voters,” Shelby said. “Unfortunately, the omission of the address was not caught by our office before the first group of ballots were mailed.”

She said her office is working to make sure that ballots are returned to her office.

Tanya Shelby

“For voters who have not yet returned their absentee ballot, all election mail should be addressed to PO Box 550, Aztec NM 87410,” Shelby said. “Absentee ballots can also be returned in person to the Clerk’s Office at 100 S. Oliver Dr., Aztec. Additionally, Clerk’s Office staff have been contacting absentee voters by phone, email, and regular mail to inform them of the proper return procedure.”

Shelby has contacted post offices in an effort to make sure ballots get where they are supposed to go.

“The local post offices have been notified as well as the Albuquerque post office,” She said. “In the event your ballot is received at the Albuquerque post office it will be delivered to Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office. Bernalillo County staff have been notified and we will be coordinating deliveries of ballots between our offices.”

Absentee voters can confirm that their ballot was received by calling the San Juan County Clerk’s Office at (505) 334-9471, the release said. “As of today, we have already received 25% of the ballots back.”

“It is my mission to conduct a free, fair, and secure election,” Shelby said. “Along with my staff, we ensure that every voter’s voice is heard. So far, more than 1800 people have cast an early ballot, and additional early voting sites will open on Saturday, October 22. Go to SJCClerk.net for locations and hours of polling places.”

All 33 polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8, the release stated.

A Daily Times reader said his spouse noticed the error and changed plans about how to submit her vote.

“I voted early but my wife chose to do (an) absentee ballot,” Daily Times reader Charles Stacey said via email on Oct. 18. “The return envelope didn't have an address and when she called the clerk's office the acknowledged that some of those envelopes had been sent with ballots. My wife caught it and just dropped her ballot off at the clerk's office.”

This isn’t the first time an envelope has caused a bit of election mischief.

In October of 2020 Shelby notified the public that a small number of voters in San Juan County who requested absentee ballots may have been affected by a barcode error on the return envelope that caused the ballots to be returned to the voter.

An alert postmaster caught the barcode error and set things right. Shelby said at the time that she believed less than 50 San Juan County residents had ballots returned to them in 2020 rather than being sent to the clerk's office. A press release sent out by San Juan County on Oct. 19, 2020 stated that potentially 20 voters had their ballots returned to them.