Kathleen Whisler, who recently moved to Santa Fe from Colorado, said she registered to vote in August when she applied for a New Mexico driver’s license.

She learned later, however, as she was trying to request an absentee ballot, that her name wasn’t on the state’s voter rolls.

Correcting the error proved frustrating, said Whisler, 70.

When she tried to review her voter registration through the secretary of state’s online Voter Information Portal, the site repeatedly rejected her data. She called the state Bureau of Elections to find out how to ensure she would be able to vote in the upcoming general election, only to have a stressed-out worker shout at her, she said.

Ahead of the Nov. 3 presidential election — one expected to draw a record number of voters casting ballots by mail to avoid risks of contracting COVID-19 — Whisler encountered a series of problems hampering her voter registration efforts: New Mexico’s online voter portal was down, the Motor Vehicle Division was having trouble transferring voter data to election officials and every election office in the state was jammed up.

“It’s not just one thing,” Whisler said. “It’s multiple issues — the website not working, overload, something wrong at the DMV, a lunatic on the phone.”

Whisler said she’s never before faced these types of troubles in 50 years of voting.

“I’m not the only person going through this, clearly,” she said.

Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar finally confirmed Friday that Whisler was registered to vote.

Salazar also agreed the pandemic has strained the state’s elections system.

Concerns about COVID-19 have prompted a far higher number of absentee ballot requests than usual. As of late last week, Salazar’s office had received 33,000 county mail-in ballot requests, compared to 6,000 in 2016, the county clerk said.

Voter registrations also take longer to process, she said. The federal government requires “list maintenance,” in which verifications are mailed to each registered voter, who then must mail it back to the elections office, Salazar said.

Adding to the workload is New Mexico’s membership with the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center, she said. States that belong to ERIC cross-check records such as driver’s licenses when people move to a different state to ensure they aren’t registered to vote in two places.

Salazar called the workload ahead of the election an “administrative nightmare.”

Staff members in her office were working 12-hour shifts and she was filling shifts seven days a week, Salazar said. Realizing employees were becoming exhausted, she scaled back the work schedule to six days a week.

But with the Oct. 6 online voter registration deadline approaching, Salazar said she will have to return to the seven-day schedule, even if she must hire more people.

Given how swamped her office is, people should register to vote as soon as possible, she said.

The deadline to register online at sos.state.nm.us/voting-and-

elections or to postmark a registration form by mail is Oct. 6. Voters also can register in person while casting a ballot during the early voting period, which begins Oct. 7 at the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office and Oct. 17 at several alternate sites around the county.

Early voting ends Oct. 31, and Oct. 20 is the last day to request an absentee ballot at santafe


(3) comments

DrMA Pepper

We had a very different experience. We moved here in mid-August, and were not sure how to register to vote as we are waiting for an appointment with the MVD to get in state DLs. So we called our Santa Fe office. The phone was promptly answered by a friendly and helpful person, who suggested we make an appointment to register to vote and ask for an absentee ballot at the same time. They called us back with an appointment, and we found our way to the county office--but picked the wrong door. An employee on break asked us where we wanted to go and saved us many steps to the office. The young man who helped us, took our information, confirmed our absentee ballot, and we were good to go. A great group of people working under significant stress--but they have implemented a good system for in person visits. Yes, I imagine there are problems--every system I know has delays and errors right now due to the pandemic--but this visit was impressively smooth. Thank you state employees!

John Cook

I understand people wanting to vote absentee. Particularly, for 'at risk' people it makes sense. But it puts a serious strain on the County Clerk's office. The slow and difficult process of verifying and counting absentee ballots is a problem. My wife and I are going to mask up and be careful about distancing but we will early vote in person. I want to feed that ballot into the counting machine with my own hands!

Stefanie Beninato

The failure of the DMV to transfer data to the SOS or the clerk's office is NOT a new problem. As a former poll worker, I can tell you it has been going on for years. Not sure why electronic transfer is so difficult.

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