Emergency powers included in legislation Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham is expected to sign into law could allow for an all-mail general election in certain areas of the state with public health concerns from the pandemic, according to lawmakers and the Governor’s Office.

Senate Bill 4, which the Legislature sent to Lujan Grisham’s desk Saturday night, was not intended to create a statewide, all-mail election. And a provision that would have allowed county clerks to send absentee ballots to all registered voters — not just those who made a formal request for one — was stripped from the bill in a Senate committee.

But broad emergency powers in the bill provide a path for a range of measures, on a county-by-county basis, to protect public health.

That could include shutting down polling locations in November, allowing drive-thru voting or requiring all-mail voting without an absentee ballot, according to the bill’s sponsors.

“There is no plan [to do that] because we don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, D-Albuquerque, one of the sponsors.

“Nothing is off the table,” Ivey-Soto added.

For any emergency election change to occur in a county, state Health Secretary Kathy Kunkel would first have to declare an ongoing public health emergency as the election draws near. Then Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver would make recommendations to a bipartisan legislative panel outlined in the bill. The panel would decide whether to adopt or amend those recommendations.

No one knows how prevalent COVID-19 will be in November, but some public health experts have suggested there could be a more severe second wave of the virus in fall and winter.

With that in mind, Democratic lawmakers argued in the House during the recent special legislative session that county clerks need the tools to keep voters safe from the virus.

An early draft of the legislation before it cleared the state House and Senate would have allowed all New Mexico voters to receive a ballot in the mail without first applying for one. That provision was removed following concern from all Republicans and two Democrats on a Senate committee that the shortcut could lead to increased voter fraud.



But the Governor’s Office, Ivey-Soto and other legislative leaders say the bill keeps that option open. Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for the Governor’s Office, said in an email Tuesday the legislation will soon be signed into law, and “it is more than fair to say the state retains the option to protect the health and safety of voters and election workers.”

If Kunkel issues an order related to the general election on or before the 60th day prior to it, Sackett said, Toulouse Oliver and clerks will make changes meant to protect the health and safety of staff, election board members and voters. “That order would, as is outlined in the bill, include evidence-based recommendations to mitigate the health issues described therein,” Sackett continued.

Rep. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, expressed concern on the House floor that the bill would grant too much authority to the health secretary over the administration of elections.

His concern, he said in an interview Tuesday, was broader than just allowing a potential back door to an all-mail election.

“I hope that the secretary of state and the representatives that were bringing forth this legislation are accurate in their portrayal of the limitations on the secretary of health’s involvement in the election process,” Nibert said.

But he said the language in the bill “seems to be broader than what their statements were on the floor of the House.”

Ivey-Soto emphasized Tuesday any decision on a request for emergency election procedures meant to protect public health would ultimately be made by a six-member legislative task force consisting of House and Senate leadership.

In an interview Saturday night, House Speaker Brian Egolf, D-Santa Fe, said he could not speculate on what possible measures the health secretary and secretary of state might suggest ahead of the general election.

Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth confirmed an election by mail remains an option. Wirth and Egolf would be among the legislators on the task force.

Toulouse Oliver’s office said prior to the special session last week that she supported the more explicit mail ballot option that was taken out of the bill.

(6) comments

William Beerman

What a way to get out your voters! Just mail them an unsolicited ballot that they (or somebody else) can mark and put in the mail box. Emergencies will probably occur in heavily Democrat areas. In any case. an audit needs to be done of mail and absentee vote processing. From what I saw as a challenger in the Primary, there needs to be an evaluation of the efficiency and the internal controls over mail and absentee ballot counting. Meanwhile, my wife said she talked with a man who said his relative who had been dead since 2002 is still on the voter rolls. In 2018 after the Las Cruces, NM, 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 What about all the bogus ballots that DID get delivered? It really happened. I was there. Does not inspire confidence in the integrity of the process and the recordkeeping.

Daniel Valdez

This doesn't surprise me. The dead have been voting in NM for decades. Absentee ballots are already in place for those who cannot make it to the ballot box. This is nothing more than voter manipulation and more Democrat corruption. Northern NM people are finally waking up and seeing the Dem party for what they are. Vote the the Dems out 2020!!!!

Mike Johnson

Since anything under an emergency order can be done unilaterally, with no science, logic, oversight, or checks and balances, she does anything she wants when she wants. This is tyranny, not democracy.

Stefanie Beninato

I think the legislators who voted against direct mail in ballots are endangering their constituents. In the states that use a full mail in system, there have been no proven allegations of voter fraud. It is just another GOP page from its playbook to make it harder for eligible voters to cast a ballot.

kyle renfro

YES, OF COURSE, HER COMPLETE DISCRETION, ANYTHING TO ABUSE HER POWERS AND TRY TO STACK THE DECK This really needs to be taken to the federal court

William Beerman

You are correct.

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