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NM officials say voter turnout was low, and they're pointing fingers at misinformation & climate change

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A poll worker counts ballots.

On June 7th, primary elections were held in New Mexico amid national concerns of low voter confidence and constant, false allegations of election fraud. Now, officials are saying voter turnout was low, but not as bad as the state's last primary election in 2018.

Alex Curtas, the communications director for New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said that voter misinformation and a warming planet may be the root of the problem.

KUNM: Now, can you give us some insight on how voter turnout was for Election Day itself?

ALEX CURTAS: Sure. So as you said, in the past, we've averaged, you know, for primary elections, somewhere around 30 to 35% of the state's registered voters that turnout for primary. So yesterday, it looks, these are unofficial numbers right now, but it looks like about a little over 25% of the total registered major party voters turned out statewide. It was a little bit lower than average and a little bit lower, as you said, in some of the previous ones. That's not not ideal. But still a lot of people turned out and it was a successful election overall, so it was good to see that.

KUNM: And we've been seeing lots of folks being displaced by fires popping up across the state––including the largest in our state history. What is turnout looking like in these areas? And, to what extent do you think fire displacement influences that voter turnout?

CURTAS: Yeah, so those areas were not the most populous areas of the state. But, they were definitely affected by the fires, we do think that a lot of people were able to utilize some of the alternate options like, using mail-in absentee ballots, which is a great option for people that we were really pushing. We're gonna have to wait a little bit to see exactly how the numbers break down. But to see exactly how much turnout may have been depressed in those areas, there were still, you know, plenty of people who were voting in those areas, like Mora, like up in the north. But, we'll just have to wait to see a little bit for some more specific numbers. It definitely is a problem, of course, as you said, as these fires were a major problem.

You know, climate change is getting worse and worse and it's having an effect even on things like our voting in elections. So, that was really kind of concerning to see this year. But, but we were able to partner with the counties, other local, state, federal officials to provide you know, as much information and access as we could. It's something we're gonna have to keep in mind going forward and that everyone needs to keep in mind as yet another impact that climate change is having on our state.

KUNM: Absolutely. And I do want to move on to misinformation surrounding elections. I'm sure you're very familiar with claims, no matter how absurd, around voter fraud. You've actually told us here at KUNM, you're expecting for results to be challenged. What are the next steps in building up confidence and trust in voters here in New Mexico?

CURTAS: Sure, well, a lot like misinformation really can have an impact on voter turnout. So it's not, you know, unlikely that some of the depression and the turnout that we're seeing is the result of this kind of constant drumbeat of misinformation that has come out over the past years. You know, it's a big part of my job as a communications director now, a big part of our office's job, is to push back against misinformation, make sure that voters have the correct information about how elections are administered. So, I would like to give a plug. We just launched a new website called Rumor vs. Reality. It's basically a fact check website about New Mexico's voting and elections. I would encourage people to search that out on our website, you can go to nmvote.org. There's a link to our Rumor vs. Reality page. And I really encourage people to use trusted sources of information like their county clerk, like the Secretary of State's office, go right to the source and get correct information because like you said, it's really a problem. And it's not going anywhere.

KUNM: It sounds like a heavy lift for you all. Well, the New Mexico GOP came out with a statement yesterday claiming the Sandoval County Clerk mishandled provisional ballots. What's your reaction to that? And is this something your office will investigate in the future?

CURTAS: Yeah, that that is something that I had tried to look into once I was made aware of it yesterday and it's still unclear as to what they are claiming or talking about in that release. The Sandoval County clerk was unaware of it. We will certainly look into it to see what exactly was being alleged.

But, you know, there is a process for poll watching, poll challenging, that kind of thing that's very much laid out in law. They should be abiding by that if if they did have watchers or challengers in a polling place or at the county clerk's office. But again, yeah, that's something that I couldn't really get any more specific information on. So, we'll have to look into that in the next couple of days.

KUNM: All righty. Alex Curtas is the Communications Director for the Secretary of State's office. Thanks for taking the time this morning.

CURTAS: Thanks for having me, Bryce.

Bryce Dix is our new local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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