One of the things I like best about elections here in Tijeras, New Mexico are the familiar, friendly faces running the village’s very smooth voting operation. I like the patriotic validation of casting my Election Day ballot, but I enjoy almost as much the feeling I get of “being a local” from the knowing nod – yeah, I’ve seen you here before – that comes with your “I Voted” sticker.
Not this year. Not gonna see ‘em. I won’t be there, and probably, neither will a lot of them. Not in the year of the coronavirus plague 2020. Not even with the fate of the Devil President to be decided.
I will vote, but not at my polling place. And you know what, a lot of my election day friends won’t be there either, for the same reason, we want to limit our interpersonal exposures as much as possible, ‘til the all-clear is convincingly sounded. Like voting; it’s the patriotic thing to do, keep yourself from burdening the over-stressed health care system.
With a June 2, New Mexico Primary date fast approaching, with U.S. Senate and House and State legislative seats up for grabs, Peggy Carabajal, the county clerk in Valencia County, the next county south of ours, says she isn’t sure how she’ll staff election day. Of the 125 workers she usually hires, she says, about 100 are over 60 years of age, and “We’ve had many of them already tell us they aren’t willing to risk the exposure.”
Carabajal and 26 fellow clerks, Democrats, filed suit before the State Supreme Court asking to make the primary an almost-all-mail-in election. The other seven county clerks, Republicans, said it wasn’t within the court’s powers to do so, and the State Supreme Court agreed. State law says you can only vote by mail if you ask for an application. Which means clerks can’t simply mail ballots to all eligible voters.
But the State Supreme Court agreed with the Democrats’ contention that the coronavirus pandemic demanded emergency rules. So, the court said, all county clerks, Republicans and Democrats, must mail to all eligible voters, applications for absentee ballots.
The Solomonic New Mexico judges didn’t split the baby in half, they made it twins. They took a one-step process – here’s your ballot, mail it in – and doubled its complexity – here’s your application for a ballot, mail in the application and we’ll send you the ballot and then you can mail it in.
How many voters will do the absentee ballot two-step? Four years ago, in the last presidential year primary, just 7 percent did. It’s a pretty sure bet that vote-by-mail participation rate will jump much higher this year in New Mexico, even if the more complicated absentee ballot route will probably suppress some votes.
But safety from the coronavirus isn’t the only security issue surrounding the 2020 elections. How secure, how accurately registered are votes by mail? Or votes online? Or votes keyed into a variety of voting machines, some of them still with no means of verifying their voting records, some of them alarmingly vulnerable to hacking.
Dr. Lonna Rae Atkeson is a Professor, Regents’ Lecturer and Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy in the Political Science Department at the University of New Mexico. She is an internationally recognized expert in the area of election sciences, survey methodology, voting rights, election administration, public opinion, political behavior, campaigns, gender, and race and ethnicity and has written over 50 articles and book chapters, and dozens of technical reports, monographs, amicus curiae briefs and other work on these topics. She advocates for a data driven, applied social science, approach to public policy that encourages academics and practitioners to join together to exchange expertise to create an efficient, well managed, transparent, and a citizen focused public sector.