Twenty-seven New Mexico county clerks sent an emergency petition Monday to the state Supreme Court, asking for an order to conduct the June primary election by mail to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus.

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.

The request comes as large numbers of voters across the state are asking to vote by mail through absentee ballots. Data from the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office shows 5,571 people signed up online to vote by mail from March 20

— when the online portal to request an absentee ballot for the primary first opened — through March 25.

“I think that the data shows that New Mexicans are excited about the upcoming election,” said Alex Curtas, a spokesman for the office. “And I think the public is responding well to the urgings of state election officials that absentee ballots are a great way to participate in the coming election while also heeding the advice of public health experts about social distancing.”

Any New Mexico voter can request and receive an absentee ballot and be able to vote by mail without a reason.

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But following orders from the governor for New Mexicans to stay home as much as possible and keep their distance from one another in public to slow the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus, the Secretary of State’s Office launched the online absentee ballot portal. The goal is to make it easier for people to sign up to vote without having to risk going to a potentially crowded polling area.

“Though the ongoing public health emergency has disrupted much of our day-to-day lives, I want to make sure every eligible voter in New Mexico has an opportunity to cast their ballot,” Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in a statement.

The county clerks’ petition, which would halt in-person voting altogether, was submitted by Tonya Noonan Herring, general counsel for Toulouse Oliver, and state Sen. Daniel Ivey-Soto, who said he worked on it in his capacity as an attorney.

“If we don’t do something, people will die,” Ivey-Soto said in an interview Monday.

Unless the Supreme Court acts on the petition, traditional in-person voting during the early voting period and

June 2, the day of the primary, will still be allowed.

County clerks can mail primary election absentee ballots starting May 5, and residents can request a ballot through May 28. Unless the 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.

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