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N.M. Officials Report No Major Election Day Disturbances, Few Absentee Ballots Left To Count

Yasmin Khan
Election Day polling site at Rio Grande High School, Albuquerque, NM, Nov. 3, 2020

Election Day 2020 was unique amid the COVID-19 pandemic with historic statewide turnout and record-high absentee ballots cast in New Mexico. Alex Curtas, Communications Director for New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, said Wednesday, Nov. 4, that only a small amount of absentee ballots remain uncounted across the state and that no distruptions at the polls were reported. 

KUNM: Now, we saw record high early voting this year in New Mexico. What kind of turnout was there for Election Day itself?

ALEX CURTAS: So yeah, like you said, record turnout – both absentee and early in-person – on Election Day in New Mexico. Actually, not as many people turned out as proportionately as we may have thought. Around 132,000 people on Election Day turned out. But, we had over 450,000 people early vote and over 327,000 people cast an absentee ballot. So, definitely people kind of heeded the warnings and just decided to vote absentee or vote early, and not as many people actually showed up on Election Day.

KUNM: We’re reporting this morning that the Bernalillo County Clerk's Office didn't respond to any serious issues of voter intimidation or interference. Did your office get any reports of this kind of problem at the polls across the state?

CURTAS: Thankfully, that trend continued across the state yesterday. So, we did not receive any real reports of disturbances at polling places or intimidation. So, that that kind of stuff really didn't pan out. You know, people were respectful and patient, and so thankfully we didn't encounter any disruptions at the polls.

KUNM: That's great to hear. So, we saw a record number of votes cast by absentee ballots this year – as you mentioned ­– amid the pandemic, some of which were dropped off or arrived by mail just yesterday. So, where is the process of counting those ballots, as of this morning?

CURTAS: Sure. So, the county clerks were very well prepared, and so they were able to begin processing their absentee ballots before Election Day. So, at the end of the night last night, we really didn't have many outstanding ballots left. There's around 1,200 in Doña Ana County still left to count – absentee ballots, like you said – a few hundred in Sandoval County, and less than 100 in Otero County. And so, really not that much. And none of those really are the types of numbers that are going to shift races at this point. And just so people know, that's because our absentee counting boards had to stop counting at 11 o'clock per state law. They will begin counting those absentee ballots that are outstanding around 9:30 a.m. today, and it looks like they'll be able to get through all of those.

KUNM: Okay, and so we have outstanding ballots and Doña Ana, Sandoval and Otero counties, and you're thinking that they'll be able to get through them fairly shortly this morning?

CURTAS: Definitely. Yeah, those are not huge numbers to process, so they should be able to get through them today.

KUNM: Okay. Well, with so many absentee ballots ahead of the election, a lot of people expected that we wouldn't have all the unofficial results this morning ­– that there might be some close races that could still be decided by outstanding ballots that might take a while to tally. So, are you saying that there aren't any key races in New Mexico that are in that situation this morning, because of the small number of still outstanding ballots?

CURTAS: I think that's right. I'm not sure of all the state legislative races and that kind of thing. There might be some that come down to the wire, but I believe most of the races are pretty well decided. The one that people had their eyes on was the congressional race down south. And it looks like the margin of victory there for Yvette Herrell is not going to be impacted by these outstanding absentee ballots.

KUNM: And now, the results we're discussing this morning are unofficial, preliminary results. What does that mean exactly? And what our next steps to get these to be official, certified results?

CURTAS: Yeah, that's a good point. So, you know, all election results are always unofficial. Counting always continues after Election Day. So, that will continue. Not only with what we’re talking about with the outstanding absentees, but if there are provisional ballots, or if any races come to recounts, that kind of thing. And so, what first has to happen is the counties canvass their results. So, that means they basically go back to check to make sure there weren't any discrepancies or anything like that. Then, they give their canvasses to our office. We canvass all of their canvasses to make sure that everything looks good. And then three weeks from yesterday is when the State Canvassing Board meets. That's the governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Secretary of State. Then, they actually certify the official results. And that determines, say, if there's an actual automatic recount, then those things will be triggered, that kind of thing. But yeah, that's kind of the process for making them totally official. But, I think from what you were saying, you know, we're going to be pretty good at determining who won where.

Nash Jones (they/them) is a general assignment reporter in the KUNM newsroom and the local host of NPR's All Things Considered (weekdays on KUNM, 5-7 p.m. MT). You can reach them at nashjones@kunm.org or on Twitter @nashjonesradio.
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