At least a few New Mexico counties struggled with hiccups on their first day of early, in-person voting for the general election, with voters enduring long waits and in some cases getting turned away because of confusion surrounding absentee ballot requests.

While early voting statewide doesn’t start until Oct. 17, many counties began allowing voters to cast ballots Tuesday.

Santa Fe County launched early voting at the Santa Fe Community Convention Center on West Marcy Street, where a line of more than 50 people stretched around a downtown corner Tuesday morning — in part because of technical issues.

Voting machines were not programmed at first to allow voters who had previously requested an absentee ballot by mail to sign an affidavit canceling the request so they could get a new ballot and vote in person, election officials said.

County clerks across the state have been reporting a record surge in absentee ballot requests amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that continues to pose health risks.

On Tuesday, however, many voters across the state changed their minds and attempted to cast their ballot in person to avoid possible problems with voting by mail. An election law change in 2019 allows a voter to cancel their mail-in ballot request and instead vote in person. But some voting sites, including the convention center in Santa Fe, weren’t prepared for the process.

Although some Santa Fe voters complained about long lines early Tuesday, the issues were resolved by midmorning, Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar said.

“We had a long line,” Salazar said. “We had to queue absentee ballot application requesters and then those that were ready to vote to go in to make sure we had a flow.

“And we had some very patient voters who were willing to wait and then we also had some that had to go to work,” she added, “and that broke my heart, because when they’re here, I want them to vote.”

The county will begin offering early voting and same-day voter registration services at the County Clerk’s Office on Wednesday. Additional early voting sites will open around the county Oct. 17.

In Roosevelt and Curry counties, clerks did not know at first about the state election law change allowing voters to cancel their absentee ballot request and obtain a new ballot. Under the previous law, a voter would have to surrender an absentee ballot before obtaining a ballot to fill out in person.

Confusion about the new law resulted in some voters in the two counties being turned away, according to Roosevelt County Chief Deputy Clerk Nathalia Baca and Curry County Democratic Party Chairman Anthony Mahan.

Baca said it was a mistake on her part.

“We didn’t know that the law changed, or I wasn’t aware that it changed in 2019, and that’s just my doing,” she said.

The mistake led to at least one frustrated voter in Roosevelt County.

John Peter Petrone, an assistant professor of education administration at Eastern New Mexico University, said he changed his mind about casting an absentee ballot after reading about problems with the mail in other states. He decided to vote in person Tuesday but was turned away.

Baca told him he would have to wait until he received his mail ballot and then turn it in before casting a regular ballot in person, Petrone said.

“So obviously I wasn’t going to be allowed to vote, and this is the first time in my life I’ve ever had this happen,” he said. “And I’ve been voting since I was 18, and I’m 57.”

Petrone said he had feared he might have been turned away intentionally because he’s a Democrat in a largely Republican county.

There were other concerns of intentional voter suppression.

Mahan said he’d heard a rumor that a bus full of supporters of President Donald Trump was parked outside a polling location in Clovis and Democratic voters were being turned away there.

A staff member with U.S. Sen. Tom Udall’s office later told Mahan the Curry County clerk had ordered the driver to move the bus away from the polling site, he said.

Mahan said perhaps only one or two people were turned away at the site due to the absentee ballot confusion, which was resolved.

Early voters in Santa Fe said the process was running smoothly and quickly at the convention center by Tuesday afternoon.

“It was super easy. The line moved smoothly,” Deborah Weiss Grunstein said. “The people were so kind and were so appreciative of the ones running the booths.”

Marsha Harner, 69, another Santa Fe voter, also said she didn’t have any problems and felt safe in the convention center, which has a high ceiling and a large room where voting booths are spaced far apart from each another.

“The instructions were great, just bada bing bada boom, right in and right out,” Harner said. “There’s plenty of space. There are monitors telling you what to do at each station.”

Salazar said she does not anticipate further problems as more early voting sites open this month, but she said her staff is prepared to troubleshoot during an unprecedented election amid the pandemic and a bitter political atmosphere.

“There’s no predictability, especially when there’s technology involved, as we witnessed this morning,” Salazar said. “But they’re working now to ensure what happened here does not happen at the alternate sites.”

(23) comments

Stefanie Beninato

I got an email from Ms Salazar this morning on the issue. She assured me that if you chose not to vote absentee (mail) and go to a polling place and vote (after filing out the affidavit that says you have not and will not use the mail/absentee ballot), your vote is immediately counted. Hope that clears confusion.

I am going to bring my mail ballot with me when I go vote in person. I just want my vote immediately counted.

Nancy Lockland

Geraldine Salazar and staff are a joke.

Stefanie Beninato

Here is the section that Larry cited. It was passed at this last year's special session

1-6-16 A. A voter who has applied for a mailed ballot or who has been sent a mailed ballot may execute an affidavit stating that the person did not and will not vote the mailed ballot that was issued. Upon receipt of the sworn affidavit, if the ballot register does not show that a ballot from the voter has been cast in that election, the county clerk shall void the mailed ballot that was previously issued to the voter.

You can look up the whole law at the new mexico supreme court website.

Larry Hill

Thanks Stefane, so I was given the correct info by the election help desk. The ballot I cast in person was accepted as a regular ballot, not a provisional. By the way, I did receive the mailed ballot the other and shredded it.

Comment deleted.
Kathy Fish

Wow, Bob! Thank you for this carefully thought-out and reflective comment! It's packed with concrete examples, and it really fleshes your claim out into a strong argument. I'm sure the Republican party is super proud to have you in its midst.

John Peter Petrone

To those few that have posted uneducated comments. The law in NM states clearly that if you requested an absentee ballot, and decide you would rather vote in person, you may. However you must go to the polling place, where they verify your voter registration, then they have you sign a sworn affidavit that you will not attempt to submit your absentee ballot under penalty of the law, (the barcode of that absentee ballot than would be invalidated so you can not vote twice without immediately getting caught). Then they issue you a new ballot and you may vote in person. Anybody that posts here that it is just Dems attempting to vote twice are posting their own ignorance of the law for all to see.

Judy Klinger

Stefanie is right. If you already sent in your application for a ballot, but then decide to go vote early in person, you will be given a provisional ballot. These are counted last, if at all, and usually only counted in contested races. So to make sure your vote is counted, wait for your mailed ballot to arrive and then drop it off at the county building or one of the designated voting locations.

Larry Hill

I emailed the election help desk and was given this answer: Thank you for taking the time to reach out to our office for clarifying information. Your ballot was a regular ballot. If you had been given a provisional ballot you would have also been given a slip of paper to check the status of your provisional ballot.

Judy Klinger

Larry, Thank you for your new comment. I recently got confirmation from someone at the local Democratic Party that my information posted was correct. And I got that elsewhere too. So no wonder there is so much confusion out there. It's hard to know what's correct and what isn't. I hope it goes as smoothly as you said.

Larry Hill

Richard Irell

Looks like the Russian bot system is broken, neither the spell check nor the caps key us working.

Kathy Fish

Could be the operator....

Kathy Riley

When can absentee ballots be expected ? And at what date should panic set in about not receiving it ?

Joe Ray Anaya

Yesterday was the first day that they could be mailed. Give it 3 days or so to be in your mailbox.

Judy Klinger

They were supposed to have started mailing them out yesterday, Oct. 6th. When they arrive depends now on the post office...

Donato Velasco

the mailed in their ballots and now like a good democrat voting again.. like the old saying goes " vote early and vote often"

Joe Ray Anaya

What an asinine statement considering the Orange One was at a rally last month telling his supporters to vote by mail and in person.

jc ostheimer

I find the rudeness in this thread to be amazingly sad for Santa Fe. Yes we requested an absentee ballot and yes decided it was safer to vote in person. NO we will not vote twice and never would consider doing that. FYI there are people that exist that behave ethically and conduct themselves as they should so who are you to assume otherwise? Angry pitiful people. Doesn't matter what the party affiliation is. AND yes, the voting process was amazingly good and the people pleasant and well organized. That was the point of the original comment.

Kathy Fish

I wouldn't take Mr. Velasco's comments to heart. It's clear this frequent poster isn't well educated, well read, or well informed - grossly reductive and illegible comments are thus to be expected.

Stefanie Beninato

However, I believe voters are still misinformed. The affidavit you are signing is because you are voting provisionally--that is they have to check to make sure you never mailed your ballot in. Provisional votes are always counted last. I confirmed that with the SFe county clerk's office last week. Your mail in ballot has a tracking number so you will even know when it was counted....

We cannot afford screwups and misleading/wrong information in this crucial election.

John Peter Petrone

Hi Stephanie I was one of the people quoted in the story. I did in fact verify with the Secretary of State`s office that I would be receiving a replacement ballot, not a provisional ballot. I just voted in person about an hour ago, and I submitted my ballot into the scanner and it was counted immediately with a reciept number.

Larry Hill

My wife and I both voted yesterday afternoon at the convention center. We arrived around 4:00 and there was no one in line. Like the article mentioned, we had requested a mail in ballot and the very nice poll worker noticed that immediately once I gave my name, address and year of birth. She said I could vote in person but needed to sign an affidavit which she printed with in minutes. The voting booth was clean and sanitized and once I cast my vote another very friendly worker directed me to the voting machine. The entire process took minutes, was orderly and very pleasant. My congratulations to the organizers, they did a great job yesterday and we were happy to be able to vote early!

Lenora Lopez

Thanks for this testimonial, it makes me feel better and l am looking forward to voting!

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