To protect the health and safety of employees and the public, Rio Arriba County Clerk Linda Padilla is asking everyone to vote from home in the County’s June 2 election.
If voters follow her advice, they will have to fill out absentee ballot applications that they will receive in the mail, and then they will vote absentee. Otherwise, they will still have the option to vote in person.
The New Mexico Supreme Court on April 14 rejected a petition that sought to make New Mexico’s June 2 primary election an election by mail.
Had the petition passed, all voters would have received absentee ballots in the mail, without having to register absentee, and could only have voted with those ballots, not in person at polling locations.
The petition was backed by most county clerks in New Mexico, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver and the state’s Democratic party, who all argued that allowing people to vote in-person is unsafe, because of the potential for transmission of COVID-19–especially given the predictions that the number of cases of the virus throughout the state will peak in late May, close to the date of the election.
After Illinois held its primary on March 17, poll workers tested positive for the virus and one died from COVID-19, the Chicago Tribune reported. Florida also went ahead with its March 17 primary, and afterwards, poll workers there also tested positive, the Intercept reported.
The Republican party of New Mexico opposed a mail-only election, citing concerns about voter fraud.
Ultimately the Court ruled that declaring the election mail-in would violate state law and that the Court cannot alter the law. The justices ordered, however, that the secretary of state and the County clerks mail all voters absentee ballot applications so that they can register and vote absentee.
“I was very disappointed that the Supreme Court didn’t pass (the petition), because I think the safety of our people is what is very important,” Padilla said.
County Manager Tomas Campos echoed the sentiment.
“I would rather they have done the mail-in ballot, but I understand how it’s unconstitutional,” he said.
Padilla said only four people will be working the polls at each site. The state has offered the poll workers N95 masks and gloves.
One voter at a time will be allowed into the polls.
Other voters will wait outside in a line. Padilla has asked County management whether fire department volunteers can oversee the line to ensure that everyone is keeping their distance from each other.
To teach the poll workers how to run the election, Padilla will hold classes on April 27, 28 and 29, but only four people will be allowed in each class, and they will have to wear gloves and masks when they attend.
She said she is still trying to figure out how she will protect the employee who helps constituents register to vote, as it will still be possible to register to vote in person.
“They get so close, because what they do is they need to present their driver’s license, and they need to sign and all that stuff,” she said, adding that she is considering installing Plexiglas.
It is possible to register online, too, on the secretary of state’s website, and to apply for an absentee ballot there.
To apply for the absentee ballot, constituents can also visit the County website–rio-arriba.org/–or the County Facebook Page–facebook.com/RIOARRIBACOUNTY/.
Or they can call the County clerk’s offices–505-753-1780 in Española and 575-588-7724 in Tierra Amarilla–and request one in the mail.
Early voting and absentee-in-person and by mail voting will begin May 5.
The positions up for election are District 3 County Commissioner, County Clerk, County Treasurer, District 40 State Representative, District 41 State Representative, District 65 State Representative and District 5 State Senate.
“Everyone, please, to protect my poll workers and my constituents, my voters, I say please, please get your absentee ballot,” Padilla said. “It’s easy, you don’t have to worry about anybody contaminating you. That’s my recommendation.”