The state Republican Party filed a lawsuit Tuesday in the New Mexico Supreme Court that aims to block an effort by more than two dozen county clerks to conduct the June primary election by mail.
The lawsuit contends a mail-in primary election offers no ballot security and could lead to voter fraud.
“You cannot monitor votes in such a mail-in ballot election,” New Mexico Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said in a statement. “Many states that use this process can scan ballots for security, but New Mexico doesn’t have that technology.”
The lawsuit comes a day after 27 New Mexico county clerks petitioned the state Supreme Court for an order to conduct the June 2 primary by mail to prevent the novel coronavirus from spreading further.
The clerks said it would be impossible to carry out a normal election during the pandemic and that to do so would “violate their oath of office in order to protect the health and safety of their community.”
“This court is the last resort to both conduct a lawful election and preserve the public health,” the petition said.
But GOP leaders said the clerks’ petition, which would halt in-person voting altogether, bypasses the Legislature by asking the court to create a “new law” regarding elections.
“This is not a partisan issue but an election law issue,” said state Senate Minority Leader Stuart Ingle, R-Portales. “We cannot have the integrity of New Mexico’s elections tainted or stolen because of lack of security in the mail ballot process.”
State House Minority Leader Jim Townsend, R-Artesia, said in a statement: “Unfortunately there has not been a major effort by the Secretary of State to clean up the voter rolls in some time, and this deceptive effort will lead to voter fraud just as it has in other states.”
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the state’s chief election officer, said she supports a mail-in election “to protect the health and safety of every voter wishing to participate.”
She said the petition would not create a new law, noting the state election code already requires special elections to be conducted by mail.
If the court grants the clerks’ request, an absentee ballot would be mailed to every eligible voter in the state in the coming weeks. Notification postcards also would be sent to voters alerting them of the change in the election process.
In-person “voter service centers” would still be available for those who require assistance because of a disability or language barrier.
In the meantime, any New Mexico voter can request and receive an absentee ballot and be able to vote by mail without a reason. Residents can request a ballot through May 28 through the voter information portal on the Secretary of State’s Office website, sos.state.nm.us/voting-and- elections/voter-information/.
Toulouse Oliver has been encouraging voters to use this option to ensure they can cast their primary election ballots safely during the public health crisis.
Unless the Supreme Court orders otherwise, ballots can be returned by mail or dropped off at a county clerk’s office.
They also can be dropped off at an alternative voting site or regular primary Election Day polling location until 7 p.m. June 2.