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Protecting Election 2020 from Covid-19: A Toolkit for New Mexico Activists

If the Covid-19 pandemic continues into November, we will need to change our election practices to make sure voters don’t have to choose between their health and their right to vote. We have the solutions to make our elections both safe and accessible to all. And with this toolkit, you will know what reforms your state needs and where to focus your efforts.

Last Updated: August 20, 2020
Published: August 20, 2020

This is part of the Brennan Center’s Toolkits for Activists Across the Nation.

Jump to a section: 
Political Context  |  What's in Place and What’s Needed  |  Key Dates

Administering an election under pandemic conditions requires undertaking steps to keep voting accessible, safe, and secure. The guide below lays out the problems Covid-19 poses, what preparedness measures New Mexico has, and what changes are still needed. But first, we offer some political context for your advocacy.


Advocacy Focus: Local Reform

Local officials have a lot of responsibility over elections. They are a great place to focus advocacy efforts. Though state officials can make any of the changes in this toolkit, we highlight some examples of changes that local elections officials can also make with this symbol:🔸


Political Context

Below is a list of the relevant officials and information about the legislative session.

Governor: Michelle Lujan Grisham (D)  

Secretary of State: Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D)

Legislature: House (D) Senate (D)

Legislative Session: The legislature last adjourned on June 22, 2020. Either the governor or the legislature can call a special or extraordinary legislative session.

Local Elections Officials: In New Mexico, county clerks share responsibilities for administering elections. You can look up individual county clerks here.

What New Mexico Has and What’s Needed

Three priorities. There are three key areas where we need to shore up our elections systems for success during a pandemic: registration, mail voting, and in-person voting.

Registration

Covid-19 may disrupt the traditional ways Americans register to vote, like get out the vote drives or registering at government agencies. In the crucial weeks before the registration deadline, postal service disruptions may lead many registration forms to arrive at election offices after the deadline.

Preparatory Measures New Mexico Already Has Taken:

  • Online voter registration
  • Voter registration until the Saturday before Election Day at County Elections Offices

Changes Still Needed:

  • Prepare to extend online and mail voter registration deadlines based on conditions in the state
  • Voter registration on Election Day

Voting by Mail

Because of Covid-19, long lines and crowds at the polls pose health risks not seen in previous elections. Allowing every citizen to vote by mail reduces the number of people at the polls on Election Day and decreases the exposure risk to Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures New Mexico Already Has Taken:

  • All voters can vote by mail without an excuse
  • No ID requirement to vote by mail
  • No notary or witness requirement for return of mail ballot
  • Online tool for requesting an absentee ballot
  • Provides pre-paid postage for voting by mail
  • Provides post-election notice and cure opportunity for missing signatures on absentee-ballot envelopes

Changes Still Needed:

  • Accept late-arriving ballots postmarked by Election Day
  • Send absentee-ballot applications to all voters who have not yet applied🔸

In-Person Voting

Even with expanded mail voting opportunity, states cannot close polling places. To do so may disenfranchise voters without Internet and mail access, or those who do not wish to cast a ballot by mail. In-person voting must be done in accordance with health guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Preparatory Measures New Mexico Already Has Taken:

  • In-person early voting
  • Vote centers on election day

Changes Still Needed:

  • Ensure sufficient polling places are open and resourced on Election Day🔸
  • Open more in-person early voting locations🔸
  • Take proper public health precautions to ensure safe polling places🔸
  • Hold training sessions for polling-place workers well in advance of Election Day, so that election officials can better anticipate problems with staffing and logistics🔸
  • Increase access to curbside voting at polling locations

Advocacy Focus: Protecting Polling Places

No matter how prepared New Mexico is as a matter of policy, elections officials and advocates must stay vigilant about ensuring safe, healthy in-person voting is an option for everyone all the way through Election Day. Here are some important things to know about who makes decisions about polling places in New Mexico and what rules govern the process:

  • State law allows Boards of County Commissioners to create additional polling places for voter convenience and accessibility.🔸
  • Local election officials are obligated to protect against crowding at polling places.🔸
  • Changes to or consolidation of polling locations on Indian/tribal/pueblo land may not occur without written consent of the Indian nation/tribe/pueblo.🔸
  • If, as a result of public health concerns, voters registered within an Indian nation, tribe or pueblo are unable to leave the Indian nation, tribe or pueblo during the time when voting occurs, at least one polling location must be located in the Indian/tribal/pueblo land.🔸
  • State law requires the Secretary of State to procure sufficient PPE and sanitizing supplies for polling locations.
  • State law outlines procedures whereby the Secretary of Health can issue public health orders regarding the conduct of the 2020 General Election.
  • In the event that current year balances in the election fund do not cover the costs of elections, the secretary of state may apply to the state board of finance for an emergency grant to cover those costs.

Key Dates for New Mexico Elections

  • May 5, 2020: Deadline to register to vote for the Primary Election
  • June 2, 2020: Primary Election Day
  • October 6, 2020: Deadline to register to vote for the General Election
  • October 6, 2020: First day of in-person early voting at county clerks’ offices for General Election
  • October 17, 2020: First day of expanded in-person early voting for General Election
  • October 31, 2020: Last day of in-person early voting for General Election
  • November 3, 2020: General Election Day