The state of confusion has no flag, no capitol and no money.
It’s still winning the early rounds of the November election.
New Mexico residents such as Chris Daniels and Terry McKay have had a difficult or impossible time getting an answer about whether they will be able to vote by absentee ballot.
McKay and Daniels live in different parts of Santa Fe and are at different stations in life. What they shared was a case of anxiety based on an ominous letter they received from Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar.
“You are hereby advised that your application for an absentee ballot for the November 3, 2020 General Election has been rejected for the following reason: DUPLICATE REQUEST.”
Salazar added they could call her office if they had any questions.
Daniels, try as he might, couldn’t reach anyone on the county clerk’s staff. He was left to wonder if he had been disqualified from voting, or if he could correct his application for a ballot.
McKay was shaken. She says this is the most important election of her lifetime, but Salazar’s letter cast doubt on her eligibility to vote. Getting an answer from the county clerk’s staff turned into an ordeal.
The state of confusion was caused in part by the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Voter Information in Washington.
It has mailed hundreds of thousands of applications for absentee ballots to New Mexico residents. McKay and Daniels each received an application.
They filled out the form, placed it in the addressed, postage-paid envelope that was provided and mailed it to the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office.
A few days later, McKay and Daniels received a second unsolicited application for an absentee ballot. Believing their first application had failed, they filled out the new one and mailed it to the clerk’s office.
Then they received Salazar’s curt letter telling them their ballot application was rejected because they had made duplicate requests.
McKay had a long and winding conversation with an employee of the county clerk’s office. The staff member finally told McKay one of her applications for a ballot had been accepted. The other application was rejected as unnecessary. She will receive an absentee ballot.
“I had to grill him to get that information,” McKay said.
That’s what it’s come down to. A voter trying to obtain a ballot receives a rejection letter, then has to be a skilled cross-examiner to determine the clerk’s written notification was incomplete and misleading.
Had Salazar’s letter stated that one of McKay’s applications to vote had been accepted, McKay would not have been panicked or wasted everyone’s time calling the clerk’s office. As of Saturday morning, 442 other voters in Santa Fe County had received rejection letters after submitting multiple requests for a ballot.
Smug insiders will claim the redundant mailings and filings for ballots are an inconsequential problem.
They ignore a hard truth. Voters are being misled, and many believe they’ve been disqualified from participating in the election.
Daniels said it seems someone is trying to make it harder for him to vote, a worry shared by many people in this contentious election between Republican President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden.
The Center for Voter Information bears much of the blame. It is bombarding New Mexico residents with applications for absentee ballots.
Tom Lopach, president and CEO of the organization, told me his group will send the same person as many as five ballot applications. Lopach’s theory is a blitz of mailings will produce more voters.
He didn’t consider that voters who apply more than once will receive the county clerk’s rejection letter and might believe they’ve been declared ineligible.
Salazar said she’s told the Center for Voter Information its mass mailings of ballot applications are detrimental.
“It is confusing to voters and an administrative nightmare for our office,” she said.
Her staff is working from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. Duplicate requests for a ballot rob the staff of time to register voters, check ballot applications and answer questions on voter eligibility.
Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office, tried to downplay any difficulties.
“If a voter sends in more than one absentee ballot application, the county clerk will process the most recent one and reject the older one, but they won’t reject both simply for sending in more than one,” Curtas said.
Terrific. Why was that detail omitted from the county clerk’s terse letter?
Salazar agreed that her letter needs clarity.
“I will check the language on that form letter and make the change if I have access to do so. If not, I will ensure the changes are made,” she said Saturday.
The secretary of state’s staff should have counseled all 33 county clerks on how to respond to voters who mailed in multiple applications for a ballot.
What should the letter say? Let’s give it a try.
“Dear Voter: We have accepted your application for an absentee ballot. Because you filed more than one application, the rest were unnecessary and have been disregarded. Absentee voting begins Oct. 6.”
Curtas said rejection letters had to be sent to voters as a matter of law.
“County clerks are required to notify the voter within 24 hours if their application was rejected and the county clerk must also provide the reason why the application was rejected, along with information on how the voter can fix their error. This was a provision in SB4 that was passed during the June 2020 special [legislative] session.”
Fine. But why shouldn’t voters who submitted a successful application also receive that shiny nugget of news?
Election officials might be overworked, but that’s no reason to bury the lead.