In New Mexico’s Doña Ana County, early voters have already cast their ballots in this year’s mid-term elections, either by early in-person voting or by absentee ballots. So far, the count is outpacing elections in past years, and it is outpacing other counties in the state. As of the end of Monday, 4,304 Doña Ana County voters had cast their early ballots. 

New Mexico Democrats are pleased that 56.9 percent of them are fellow Dems. By way of contrast, 50.28 percent of early and absentee voters were Democrats in 2016. Across New Mexico, 22,702 voters have cast early ballots. Statewide, 55.6 percent are Democrats, while 32.7 percent are Republicans. In 2014, almost 20,000 voters in Doña Ana County voted early or absentee. Voting in 2016 showed a higher turnout: 43,500 voters cast ballots before Election Day. Early voting expands in the state on Saturday. Until then, early voting takes place only in county clerks’ offices. 

Doña Ana County is encompassed by New Mexico’s 2nd Congressional District, which is represented by Rep. Stevan Pearce, a Republican. Pearce has held the seat for 14 years, but is not running for re-election. There are only three congressional districts in the state, and the 2nd Congressional District is one of the largest in the country, and covers the entire southern half of New Mexico. It is currently considered a toss-up and where Democrats are keen to gain a seat.

Democrats may be enthusiastic about the early voting because nearly 20 percent of the earliest voters come from Dona Ana County, which is home to New Mexico’s second-most-populous city, Las Cruces. With less than 10 percent of all registered voters in the state, it is one of the few area where Democrats regularly win elections in the Congressional District, which is larger than the whole state of Pennsylvania. 

Observers in New Mexico assert that several factors have contributed to a high turnout this year, especially among Democrats. Xochitl Torres Small, a progressive Latino Democrat, has benefited from having more volunteers pounding the streets and back roads of the district than has been the case in the past. Democrats have had success registering voters at New Mexico State University and on high school campuses. Among the groups that are organizing in the state is the progressive New Mexico Comunidades en Acción y de Fé (CAFé), which has been crowing about its voter registration efforts. In a Tuesday tweet, the group declared: “This election cycle, we launched a campaign to engage thousands in low income and working class neighborhoods to mobilize unlikely and underrepresented voters to get them to the polls for the 2018 General Election through traditional organizing tactics.” CAFé declared: “Instead of canvassing, we had leaders in their communities engage people and create a larger network of leaders to encourage others to get out the vote and the issues they care about the most that affect them.”

Xochitl Torres Small is running against Republican Yvette Herrell. Republicans are apparently non-plussed about Democrats’ registration efforts. Since January, local Republican party leaders have accused the Doña Ana County Clerk’s office of irregularities, as well as mishandling voter records containing personal information that were found in the old county courthouse. In September, a data breach was revealed at a meeting of the Doña Ana County Board of County Commissioners when the commissioners considered candidates to replace the county clerk, Scott Krahling. Chief Deputy Clerk Lindsey Bachman confirmed then that 2,517 voter registration cards had been recovered after they were found at the old courthouse. The records contain confidential information about voters, including Social Security numbers. The Doña Ana County government moved out of the old courthouse in May 2006, when the now-deceased Rita Torres was county clerk. Republicans have complained that county officials did not let voters know that their personal information had been compromised for over a decade. 

According to the New Mexico Political Report, Doña Ana County Republican Party Chair Betty Bishop says that Democrats are beating Republicans in early voting because Republican and non-affiliated voters have no faith in the county clerk’s office to accurately count early votes. Bishop noted that former county clerk Rita Torres’ tenure was marked by elections controversies all the way back to 2000. Democrats have controlled the office for decades, she said, and effectively suppress Republican voters. 
 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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