By Maggie Toulouse Oliver
Bernalillo County Clerk
Democratic Candidate for New Mexico Secretary of State
As the clerk of the largest voting jurisdiction in New Mexico, I have heard many concerns since the March 22 presidential primary election in Arizona, in which thousands of voters waited in lines, sometimes as long as five hours, to cast a ballot.
Voters are worried that with a highly contentious presidential primary on both sides of the aisle, New Mexico may well be a key state in both parties’ nomination process. I want to assure the voters of Bernalillo County and throughout New Mexico that there is no reason the problems faced by Arizona’s voters should occur here on June 7.
It is important to note that, similar to Arizona’s presidential primary last week, New Mexico is currently a closed primary state. This means that in order to vote in the primary election here, a voter must be registered as a Democrat or Republican. There are many good reasons why this should no longer be the case, but despite those reasons, the law in New Mexico continues to require voters to declare a major party preference to vote in the June 7 primary election.
In Maricopa County (the greater Phoenix area) alone, more than 25,000 voters were forced to cast provisional ballots because their registration did not reflect a major party affiliation. The vast majority of those provisional ballots were rejected – and not counted – due to a lack of declared Democratic Party or Republican Party membership on the part of the voter.
Provisional voting takes much more time and many more resources for election officials to process, which contributed to the length of time all voters were forced to wait in line on election day. This means many, many voters waited for hours only to vote a provisional ballot that was not ultimately counted.
This is a travesty for everyone involved.
My office is always working to ensure that voters in Bernalillo County have a convenient and accessible voting experience. That’s why we take these concerns very seriously and are putting plans in place to ensure that the Maricopa County experience does not repeat itself here.
I want to encourage anyone who is eligible to vote in the primary election and wants to participate to select a major party designation when they register to vote before the deadline on May 10, or to verify and/or update their current voter registration to ensure a designation as either a Republican or Democrat by that date.
New Mexico offers voter registration at county clerk’s offices, public libraries any Motor Vehicle Division office or, now, online via the Secretary of State’s website, for voters who have a current or expired drivers’ license.
My office is stepping up efforts to remind voters to get registered in advance of the primary election, as well as ensuring we have adequate resources to process the increase in voter registration applications that we expect to receive in advance of the election. We encourage voters in Bernalillo County to visit our website, bernco.gov/mvi, to get information about their voter registration record in advance of the May 10 voter registration deadline, and beyond that, for information about where, when, and how to cast a ballot in the primary election.
I encourage voters outside of Bernalillo County to visit the Secretary of State’s voter registration information site at voterview.state.nm.us to verify their current voter registration status, including their current party affiliation.
Although we are encouraging voters to ensure their registration status in advance, we know that not everyone will hear this message. For this reason, the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office is also taking steps to ensure adequate resources at every polling place to ensure voters wait no longer than our goal wait time of 30 minutes to cast their ballot in this primary election.
By ensuring you are registered by the May 10 deadline, and have designated a major party preference before attempting to cast a ballot in the primary election, you will ensure a smooth voting process not just for yourself, but for all voters in your county.
Ensuring an expedient and professional voting process has always been our goal and we hope that with the measures outlined here that all voters in the upcoming primary election will be satisfied with their experience.