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WED: Democrats Dominate First Day Of Voting As Secretary Of State Warns Against False Claims, + More

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Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Cadet Alyssa Skorich sanitizes a voting station

Democrats Dominate 1st Day Of Voting In Albuquerque Area - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Officials say Democrats cast nearly half of the ballots across New Mexico during the first day of early and absentee voting, while registered Republicans accounted for about 38% of participation.

The secretary of state's office said Wednesday that 10,157 ballots were cast statewide on the opening day of voting.

County clerks on Tuesday began distributing absentee ballots and opened their central offices to early voting. Voting convenience centers will open on Oct. 17 at hundreds of locations.

Democratic turnout was especially pronounced in Bernalillo County, the most populous metro area that encompasses Albuquerque. Democrats there accounted for 67% of early and absentee ballots.

The state's top election regulator on Wednesday warned against false claims circulating on Facebook that the governor would order polls closed in mid-October.

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said that information is false and that in-person voting will be available in all 33 counties throughout the entire early voting period and on Election Day.

Absentee ballot requests have surged across the state in response to concerns about the coronavirus and the dangers of public gatherings.

As of Wednesday, nearly 330,000 people statewide had requested absentee ballots that can be cast by mail or handed in at voting locations or drop boxes. That represents a massive increase in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In the 2016 presidential election about 76,000 people cast absentee ballots — less than 10% of the electorate.

On the opening day of the 2020 election, unaffiliated and small party voters accounted for about 12% of ballots.

Trump Looms Over Election Rematch In New Mexico Oil Country - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

Democratic U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small will defend her New Mexico swing-district seat in Congress during a second televised debate against Republican former state legislator Yvette Herrell.

Absentee and limited early voting have begun across the state as the 2nd Congressional District candidates prepared to appear Wednesday evening on KOB-TV.

The race is a rematch from 2018, when Herrell declined to debate and lost by fewer than 4,000 votes in her push to seize the seat left open by seven-term Republican Rep. Steve Pearce as he ran unsuccessfully for governor.

Republican voter registrations have surged across the sprawling congressional district that borders Mexico, Texas and Arizona

The 2nd Congressional District is home to a lucrative oil region but also has some of the most impoverished communities in the U.S. The region has the highest percentage of Hispanic voters in New Mexico — the state with the highest percentage of Hispanic residents.

Torres Small voted in favor of impeaching Trump, who was favored in 2016 at the polls in the district. This month, she voted for a second time against Democratic House proposals for a new round of pandemic recovery aid.

Herrell has cast herself as a loyal supporter of President Donald Trump, saying in a September debate that she is "unashamedly pro-God, pro-life, pro-gun, pro-business and pro-family."

In Washington, Torres Small has secured a seat on the House Agriculture Committee as an advocate for the state farming sector that is heavily invested in pecan and chile crops, along with livestock ranching and dairy production.

 Ex-Catholic Priest In New Mexico Dies Before Abuse TrialAssociated Press

Authorities in New Mexico say a former Roman Catholic priest has died just weeks before he was scheduled to go on trial after he was accused of raping a young girl at an Albuquerque parochial school decades ago.

The New Mexico attorney general's office said 82-year-old Sabine Griego died last week. The trial was scheduled to begin Nov. 16.

A judge had released Griego on his own recognizance, so he was not in custody while awaiting trial. Albuquerque-based attorney Levi Monagle, who is representing the survivors in the criminal lawsuit, says his death is "deeply disheartening" to survivors.

Daily Coronavirus Infections Steeply Rise In New MexicoAssociated Press

Newly confirmed cases of COVID-19 jumped to 426 statewide in the second-highest single-day tally of the pandemic.

State health officials on Wednesday also confirmed two fatalities as virus-related deaths approach the 900 mark. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is showing no signs of infection as she self-quarantines in response to one positive test result by a custodian at the governor's mansion in Santa Fe.

The rolling average of daily infections has nearly doubled over the course of the past two weeks. Education officials reported 15 infections at schools, including four children.

The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in New Mexico decreased over the past two weeks, going from 4 deaths per day on Sept. 22 to 3 deaths per day on Tuesday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.

At the same time, the average positivity rate has climbed over the past two weeks from 2.1% to 3.65%, and daily positive tests have nearly doubled from 120 on Sept. 22 to 235 on Tuesday.

Comparing seven-day averages of new cases smooths out anomalies in the data, including delays in test results.

New Mexico Weighs Court Fees Reform - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

New Mexico legislators are considering proposals to reduce court fees and declutter courts in an effort to bring socioeconomic equity to the state's justice system.

Criminal justice reform advocates say court fees and fines can be unpayable, leading to a cycle of missed payments, arrests and additional fines.

The New Mexico Sentencing Commission is calling for legislation that would let judges offer payment plans to defendants and cap payments for both fines and fees at 2% of net income or a minimum of $10 per month.

They also want to streamline financial assessments by courts and reduce the money spent trying to collect payments from the poor.

The proposals were made Wednesday to the state legislature's Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee.

Many Elect To Cast Ballots In Person On First Day Of Early VotingSanta Fe New Mexican, Albuquerque Journal, KUNM

Election officials across New Mexico reported high turnout for the first day of early and absentee voting Tuesday.

The Albuquerque Journal reports around 100 people were in line at a Bernalillo County polling location before the doors had opened. Bernalillo County Clerk Linda Stover said the line stretched down the block and remained “a steady stream.”

Meanwhile, in southern New Mexico, Doña Ana County Clerk Amanda López Askin told the Journal that poll workers there said they had never seen a heavier first day of voting in Las Cruces.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the Santa Fe Community Convention Center Tuesday also saw lines of early voters stretch down the street. The lines were attributed in part to technical issues, as more voters than expected decided to vote in person. County Clerks statewide have reported unprecedented numbers of absentee ballot requests.

Santa Fe election officials said voting machines were not set up as the day began to allow voters who had requested an absentee ballot to change their mind and vote in person, though doing so is allowed under a 2019 law.

Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said the programming issue was resolved later that morning.

Congresswoman Skips Initial Television Debate In New Mexico - Associated Press

Republican congressional candidate Michelle Garcia Holmes discussed her campaign alone on local network television Tuesday after incumbent U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland declined an invitation for a live-broadcast debate. 

During five minutes of free broadcast time, Garcia Holmes said she believes negotiations on a new federal recovery package should continue in order to help a state with surging unemployment, homelessness and other hardships related to COVID-19. President Donald Trump on Tuesday declared there would be no action before the election on economic-stimulus legislation. 

Garcia Holmes, a former police detective and administrator for the state attorney general's office, applauded the Trump administration's recent decision to send federal agents to Albuquerque to help with traditional law enforcement efforts, and she characterized her opponent's approach to crime legislation as "dangerous and radical."

Haaland spokesman Scott Forrester says the congresswoman still plans to participate this week in candidate interviews on New Mexico PBS and a pre-recorded debate on KOAT. Haaland's campaign was dissatisfied with terms of the debate proposed by KOB for Tuesday.

Garcia Holmes ran unsuccessfully in 2018 for lieutenant governor.

Haaland is a Laguna Pueblo tribal member who became one of the first Native American women elected to Congress with her victory in the 2018 election in the 1st Congressional District that encompasses Albuquerque.

Tuesday marked the start of absentee balloting in New Mexico, including limited in-person voting by absentee ballot at county clerk's offices.

Strict Rules Keep Business Out Of New Mexico Loan Program - By Cedar Attanasio AP/Report For America

According to a state agency, only about $20 million of a $400 million loan program for New Mexico small businesses hit by the pandemic has been approved to send out since the program began in August.

In a presentation to the state legislature Tuesday, the agency tasked with distributing the low-interest loans said legislators might want to make it easier to qualify.

Around 85% of those businesses that didn't qualify for the Small Business Recovery Loan Fund failed to meet the requirement of showing a loss of at least 30% of revenue in April and May compared to the same time in 2019.

As written, the statute does not allow flexibility in the program for businesses that are less than a year old and therefore can't compare revenues.

The fund gives two months' worth of operating expenses to eligible entities owned by residents at an interest rate of around 2%, with no payments required in the first year.

Investment and Pension Oversight Committee Chairman Sen. George Muñoz asked for suggestions in the coming weeks on how to tweak the program to increase the distribution of the loans.

State Reports 316 New COVID-19 Cases Pushing Total To Nearly 31,000 KUNM, Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico state health officials announced 316 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday, but there were no additional deaths.

Bernalillo County led the state with 138 new cases followed by Doña Ana County with 37 cases. New Mexico has now had 30,947 cases and 894 deaths.

The Albuquerque Journal reports the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center is experiencing a surge in cases with 105 cases confirmed since Saturday. Before this recent surge, the facility had seen a total of 75 cases since the coronavirus pandemic began. 

There were also 2 new cases among people held by federal agencies at the Otero County Processing Center.

There are currently 110 people hospitalized for COVID-19. That may include people who tested positive outside the state but are hospitalized in New Mexico. It does not include people who tested positive here but were hospitalized elsewhere.

The New Mexico Department of Health has designated more than 17,400 cases as having recovered.

Navajo Nation Reports 17 New Coronavirus Cases, 1 More Death - Associated Press

Navajo Nation health officials reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday with one additional death. That brings the total number of cases to 10,501 including 30 additional cases that were previously unreported due to delayed reporting or reconciliation. 

The death toll stands at 560 since the pandemic began. 

Tribal health officials say 109,722 people on the vast reservation that covers parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah have been tested for the coronavirus and 7,284 have recovered.

A shelter-in-place order, mask mandate, daily curfews and weekend lockdowns remain in effect on the Navajo Nation.

State House Candidate Addresses His Work In 1980s Porn Films - By Morgan Lee, Associated Press

A Democratic candidate in an open state House race is acknowledging his participation in two pornographic films in the 1980s as a college student.

The revelation about Roger Montoya of Velarde emerged as the nationally heralded arts educator runs for office in a sprawling rural legislative district.

Montoya says he was young and naive when he participated in the films and is not proud of it.

The state Republican Party on Monday called on Montoya to withdraw from the political race based on "unacceptable" risky and dangerous behavior.

Leading Democrats have rallied in support of Montoya.