Correction appended

Even after long lines at polling sites in Wisconsin on Tuesday raised alarms about the possible spread of COVID-19, the New Mexico Republican Party is continuing its push to block a request by 27 county clerks to hold the state’s primary election by mail.

State GOP Chairman Steve Pearce said in an interview Wednesday he has serious concerns about the security of a mail-ballot election. The party has been granted a request to intervene in the clerks’ case in the New Mexico Supreme Court, which would determine whether voters registered as members of the major political parties automatically will be sent a ballot for the June 2 primary and whether polling locations will be closed to protect public health.

The state Republican Party favors maintaining traditional absentee voting, in which voters can request and receive a ballot by mail. The party would “leave it up to the Secretary of State and county clerks to decide if and when polling places are open,” party spokesman Mike Curtis said in an email.

Pearce defended maintaining public polling places, despite the health risks.

Wisconsin Republicans successfully blocked a mail-in election there, forcing voters to cast ballots at a limited number of polling sites that were severely understaffed because of a drop in the number of people willing to serve as poll workers during the pandemic.

“Well, if you have bothered to go the Walmart or the supermarket during these times, I suspect that the crowd there is just as dense as it would be at any single polling place,” Pearce argued.

He added: “There are ways to solve it if you’re gonna vote in person, but our recommendation is that everybody be given the application for an absentee ballot and still go ahead and vote by mail with absentee ballots.”

The distinction — whether New Mexico voters registered as Democrats, Republicans or Libertarians would automatically receive a primary election ballot or whether they’d have to request one — is of key importance, Secretary of State Maggie ouse Oliver said.

County clerks who have petitioned the state Supreme Court for an automatic mail-in ballot system argue it would make the election process easier for voters.

If Republicans are successful in their court challenge, New Mexico could have to maintain 168 public polling places for early voting and 568 on election day. Toulouse Oliver said this would pose risks to both voters and poll workers, who often are over the age of 60 and at higher risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19.

“Steve Pearce and the Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves for trying to drag politics and partisanship into what is a health crisis going on in this state and our country,” Toulouse Oliver said in an interview. “And by trying to block us from doing the right thing for the voting public, they are basically saying it’s better to put people’s lives at risk than to do it a different way, and I think that’s shameful.”

There is still enough time to conduct an absentee-focused election before the primary, she said. People can request an absentee ballot until May 28, either by mail or through an online portal on the agency’s website.

State Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, an attorney representing the county clerks who filed the petition, bashed Pearce and other Republicans who argue a mail-in election exposes the state to increased chances of voter fraud.

He and Toulouse Oliver said there are numerous safeguards already in place to ensure voter fraud does not happen.

One key security measure, Ivey-Soto said, is the requirement that voters include their name, registration address, signature and date of birth. So if a voter’s ballot is sent to the wrong address or to a home where they no longer live, the current resident would have to know their date of birth to fraudulently cast their ballot.

And double-voting is not an issue because each ballot envelope has a unique bar code scanned upon receipt by county clerks, he said.

“Of course [Pearce] didn’t mention that,” Ivey-Soto said. “What’s frustrating about this challenge is that they are politicizing … the fundamentals of our democracy. That should not be politicized.”

Common Cause New Mexico, the League of Women Voters of New Mexico, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and other groups filed a brief supporting the clerks’ petition to host a mail-in primary election.

“New Mexicans should not have to choose between their safety and the exercise of their right to vote,” said Levi Monagle, a Common Cause board member and the author of the amicus brief.

As part of the case, the state Supreme Court also has asked parties to submit their opinion on whether it’s possible for the Legislature to host a special session virtually, rather than in person, to vote on a change in the election code that would allow mail-only voting.

Ahead of an April 14 hearing on the matter, the Supreme Court asked several parties — including the state Legislature, the Democratic Party and the Governor’s Office — to submit input on whether state legislators could legally convene and vote remotely.

In its response Wednesday, the Legislative Council said the state constitution requires legislators to be “present” on the House and Senate floors to pass bills. Lawmakers would have to convene in person to change each chamber’s rules to allow for a remote special session.

The council said it could not advocate for or against such rule changes but noted “the difficulty in timely effecting those modifications in a manner which would accommodate the primary election set for June 2, 2020.”

Attorneys for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the Democratic Party of New Mexico also were expected to a file a brief Wednesday outlining their stance on the constitutionality of a virtual legislative session.

This story has been amended to reflect the following correction: A previous version incorrectly reported the number of polling locations that could be open for the June 2 primary election. The correct number is 168 for early voting and 568 on election day.

(28) comments

William Beerman

In 2018 after the Las Cruces mail-in ballot bond debt election, the Doña Ana County Clerk’s office reported that 8,656 of 60,500 ballots, or 14.3 percent, were returned by the post office as undeliverable. Several posters on Facebook said they received ballots at their homes for former residents — one said she got a dozen at her home ——LC Sun-News August 23, 2018 Does not inspire confidence in the integrity of the process and the recordkeeping.

Octavio Burrola

I have worked the last two presidential elections and also worked the last primary but I am not working the next one. I would like to see Pearce and all those republicans crying about fraud to work them. Also, I would be voting absentee.

John Pearson

Well, if you have bothered to go the Walmart or the supermarket during these times, I suspect that the crowd there is just as dense as it would be at any single polling place.”

Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican Party chairman

Ummmm. There is so much wrong with this I don't know where to start. So I won't. Yes I will; "bothered to go to Walmart???" So Steve Pierce is arguing that if Walmart is crowded that means it's OK for the state to force voters into crowds??? And he "suspects" because what? He means "he guesses". Sorry but if this wasn't a family newspaper I'd be using a pretty naughty word right about now. What an ***hole.

Peter Romero

And with Dems in control of everything, we are still last in everything good and first in everything bad. Dems have controlled the house and senate since 1912. Can’t blame Republicans for that. Please remember Governor’s don’t make laws, the house and senate do.

Edward Baca

What Steve Pierce and the NM Republican Party of New Mexico are trying to do is straight out of the national Republican Party playbook for suppressing the voting rights of minority and low income Americans who tend to vote Democratic. Starting with getting the "right" men into the Supreme Court, which enable the 5-4 vote in Shelby County v. Holder in 2013, many states (mostly Southern, read Confereracy) moved to weaken protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Keep your masks on folks because what's going on here fails the racist smell test big time.

Ed Li

Republicans are straight up trash, cheating and choke holding everyday Americans into keeping their antiquated party in power.

Dottie Butler

Republicans nationwide have been working hard to suppress voter turnout because they know that they cannot win free and fair elections. They know that mail-in elections will cause them to permanently lose the presidency, the senate and the house of representatives. It will cost them many governorships and will lose for them majorities they currently hold in many state legislatures. Even at the local level, they will lose. In short, it will effectively destroy the Republican party. Why? Because there are more Democrats than there are Republicans. Blocking Democrats from voting has been the most effective strategy ever employed by Republicans. It's the keystone to their success. Mail-in balloting destroys that strategy and the Republican party.

Marie Morrison

Do I want to hold a pen touched by others in front of me? No. Do I want to hold a ballot sheet touched by others? No. Do I want to lean on a table to mark my ballot touched by others? No. Do I want to be near the cough of the person in the next voting booth? No. Do I want to have a mail-in election? Yes.

Elizabeth Pettus

Voter suppression is indefensible. Endangering lives is indefensible.

Stephen Hauf

[sad] What does it say about the Party of Lincoln that can only win elections by keeping others from being able to vote. The Party of Lincoln needs a bigger tent. Does Steve Pearce really believe that a serious voter who is sent a single code protected ballot is going to let someone else cast this vote? Ronald Reagan did it, but lately, the GOP has been chasing them back home.

Michael O'Neill

Good article in NY Times today about Trump's push to limit voting by mail.

DeeDee Downs

A weasel of the lowest degree! Steve Pearce exhibits the astonishing malice of all trumplicans. They will lie, steal, cheat and morally debase themselves to "win" at all costs. they don't understand that they lose their Humanity in the process of destroying Democracy.

Jeff Varela

Steve Pearce is a liability for the NM Republican Party. Does he really speak for and represent the Republican party in NM?

Jim Clark

This will insure the election of progressive candidates!

David Ford

Nonsense - you just made my point Jim about facts. BTW it is "ensure" not insure

David Ford

Voter suppression is one of the republicans main goals because they know it is one of the few ways they can control outcomes and it will be even more relevant going forward as their policies continue to divide this country and votes will be cast with regard to the main issues we face such as the growing financial divide, the divide over health care (financial also), or their war against marginalized groups and minority groups (American citizens by the way).

Suppression of the Voting Rights Act was one of the first steps: trying to eliminate early voting, drastically reducing the number of polling places (in certain districts of course), not allowing felons (who have paid their debt to society) to vote, ridiculous gerrymandering boundaries etc., etc...

Voter fraud is a myth that has been proven wrong in multiple studies over the years and even trump's own commission found no basis for it.

Absentee voting has been in place since 1932 and I have used it many times while in the military and overseas, and due to these extraordinary circumstances of today should be used extensively with the underlying message that the health of our citizens is paramount. The health of our voting system will not suffer no matter how many times that lie is told by the pundits on the right. However, as we see everyday from the president and his state media news, if you tell the same lie over and over again, then their own base actually believes it without investigating on their own. Kinda how North Korea operates under their "Dear Leader". For some reason that is hard to understand, that base doesn't think it will affect them because of their political affiliation, until grandma loses her Social Security check

Want the truth? - look it up! There are plenty of FACT based websites out there that do actually report the FACTS, as scary as that word is to the right's base it is more important than ever to have real FACT based information for ALL Americans.....

Thom Wilson

Why are Republicans so afraid of " one person, one vote"?

Has mr Pearce ever waited 2 hours, in the rain, to get into a Walmart?

Rachel Thompson

Steve Pearce is an idiot.

Charles W Rodriguez

Steve Pearce and the NMGOP is a dead albatross around the neck of New Mexico.

Cynthia Juengel

I don't think so. Cheating Dems are the problem. When they don't win, they whine, cry , scream, yell, and place blame when the real problem is themselves.

Ted Nugent

@ Cynthia: You are correct. I'm just loving life in NM right now as Dems dominate House, Senate, all committees, Gov., etc. And to think 8 full years of this! Talk about a trifecta! I have a bounce to my step, despite whatever going on around us. Viva MLG!

Bill Roth

I think this is called"projection" after all it was republicans who filed the Supreme Court case that made folks in Wisconsin have to decide whether to risk exposure to a deadly virus or exercise the right to vote. and I am sure you are well aware that the majority of voter fraud cases were republicans voting illegally not democrats. As for facing blame- you mean like the current occupant in dc is taking any responsibility for the horrid performance of the federal government during this crisis? like blaming a president who has been out of office for three years for his own mishandling of the current pandemic?

Cynthia Juengel

Exsqueeze me?

No.... Democrats can't win unless they cheat! PERIOD!

Ted Nugent

I am a card-carrying Democrat. I agree. I will win at very cost. I am loving NM right now, folks: Dems dominate the House, Senate & Gov. Can't beat it. I know it won't last forever, but 8 years total is good enough for me (we all know MLG will be awarded 2nd term). Life is good. Viva MLG!

Stefanie Beninato

The NM GOP and the national GOP are the party of death. They do not care about their constituents' health--only about gaining or maintaining power so they can make more money off the backs of working people.

And Cythnia Juengel where do you get your data that Dems can only win by cheating in NM? Care to lay out the facts? Last absentee ballot voting fraud was in North Carolina in 2018 by REPUBLICANS. What say you to this?

Al Chavez

A closed mind is a terrible thing.

Stephen Hauf

Your logic is impeccable because they are Democrats and because they cast a vote- they cheat. Only Lobster Hat votes are legitimate. President Ronald Reagan is spinning in his grave. The GOP strategy of making their vote larger, by making other votes smaller smacks of Patricianism .

Carolyn DM

LMAO!! I remember the word, "Exqueeze me", from something like 5th grade. Wrong!! It's the Republicans who can't win without cheating. They're notorious for gerrymandering and voter suppression, and Mr. Pearce, who should have been gone long ago knows it better than anybody. Just look at NM's most famous loser Yvette Harrell who gave her acceptance speech before all the votes were tallied! What a joke! And to think people still support these ignorant goons!

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