The New Mexico Supreme Court will hear oral arguments April 14 on whether to allow an election by mail amid the public health emergency spurred by the new coronavirus.
The state’s highest court also will hear arguments that day on whether to allow a virtual special legislative session, rather than have lawmakers convene in the state Capitol, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus.
Supreme Court justices will weigh an emergency petition filed by 27 county clerks seeking to move the June 2 primary to a mail-in election, in which every voter registered with one of the major parties will receive a ballot in the mail. The New Mexico Republican Party and numerous GOP lawmakers are attempting to block that effort, arguing an election by mail could lead to voter fraud.
The Supreme Court order issued Wednesday grants Republicans’ request to intervene.
“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.”
State Sen. Stuart Ingle, R-Portales, the Senate minority leader, said it’s “not a partisan issue.”
“We cannot have the integrity of New Mexico’s elections tainted or stolen because of lack of security in the mail ballot process,” he said in a statement.
More than two dozen county clerks have signed onto a petition arguing it is impossible to host a normal election during a pandemic in which social contact presents severe health risks. “This court is the last resort to both conduct a lawful election and preserve the public health,” the petition said.
Legislative staff and the Attorney General’s Office also are looking into the legality of conducting a special session online.
Top Democratic lawmakers have said a special session is likely as the state faces a potential $2 billion budget shortfall amid the pandemic and low oil prices.
Sen. John Arthur Smith, D-Deming, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said this week lawmakers are looking at the bigger-than-expected budget hole as oil prices continue to fall and tax revenue projections appear grim. A special session may be necessary to make budget adjustments this year after the economic fallout even after Congress approved a $2 trillion federal stimulus package last week and is beginning work on another aid plan.