SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Voters across New Mexico have submitted nearly 250,000 absentee ballot requests with especially strong demand among Democrats for alternatives to in-person voting amid the pandemic, according to statistics released Thursday by state voting regulators. In 2016, voters cast 8,000 absentee ballots.
Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said the popularity of absentee voting may translate into a lengthier process for tallying ballots that could extend beyond Election Day on Nov. 3.
She said county clerks have been allotted more time to authenticate absentee ballots as they arrive ahead of Election Day, but the counting process could potentially last for several days if voters wait until late in the cycle to mail or hand deliver ballots. Absentee ballots must be received by 7 p.m. on Nov. 3 to be counted.
“We are hoping that this additional time is going to give our clerks the leg up that they need to be able to get through the vast majority of those absentee ballots on Election Day,” Toulouse Oliver said during a news conference with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. “If more than half of these ballots come back on Election Day, then we probably are going to be into a multi-day, after-the-election process getting those initial counts tallied.”
Initial vote counting on Election Day can extend until 11 p.m. and resume the next morning — a precaution against extreme fatigue among election workers that might lead to errors.
Election officials will start distributing the first absentee ballots on Oct. 6. In-person voting starts on Saturday, Oct. 17, at voting convenience centers.
The number of absentee ballot requests already exceeds those cast in the June 2 primary.
In other pandemic developments, the governor cited a slight increase in the rate of spread for COVID-19 statewide and more substantial signs of spread in areas including Albuquerque and Sandoval County. She said no immediate changes are being made to the state's emergency public health order.
The current order limits businesses, including retail outlets, private schools and indoor restaurant areas, to 25% of capacity, while hotels and lodges can seek certification for 75% occupancy. Masks are mandatory in public, with a 10-person limit on public gatherings and a 14-day self-quarantine requirement for travelers entering from high-infection rate states that currently include all five neighboring states.
Health officials announced 239 newly confirmed cases Thursday of COVID-19, with deaths rising by two to a total of 859 statewide since the outset of the pandemic.
The Public Education Department announced six newly detected cases since the previous day, including one student in Sandoval County who was last on school property Sept. 18.
Lujan Grisham said state health official plan to independently verify the effectiveness of future coronavirus vaccines as they become available.