Absentee ballot requests down
Voter registration numbers are high and so is early voter turnout, but what about absentee voting?

By Avicra Luckey / CJ 475 Reporter
Posted Nov. 5, 2012

Election officials say the number of registered voters in New Mexico has jumped 5 percent since the last general election, all while the number of requested absentee ballots has gone down.

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According to the county clerk's office, 67,000 absentee ballots were mailed out in Albuquerque on the first day, in 2012 that number fell significantly to 22,000.

Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver said the low numbers could signify low turnout for in-person voting and can also be attributed to the fact that New Mexico is not a swing state this election.

"Not being a swing state is going to impact turnout in New Mexico," she said. "You don't have the presidential campaigns and the national Democratic and Republican parties investing the same amount of resources in the state as they have in the past to drive that turnout."

Christine Sierra, Director of The Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, said another side effect of losing swing state status this year is that New Mexico doesn't benefit from political campaigns exciting their parties and getting voters signed up for absentee ballots.

"In the past ... the request for absentee ballots were actually a part of the get-out-the-vote strategies on a part of the political parties," she said. "It (lower absentee numbers) could be that the parties are having difficulty getting their bases out."

According to a poll by the Albuquerque Journal, President Barack Obama leads over former Governor Mitt Romney by a 10-point margin, but nationally the two candidates are much closer. Sierra said when there are margins like this one it could seem like there is a foregone conclusion for some voters.

David Weiss, assistant professor of communication and journalism at the University of New Mexico, said another contributor to low absentee request numbers could be a general lack of voter enthusiasm. Especially after what was a historical election leading to astronomical turnout in 2008.

"We have one candidate who everyone was excited about four years ago when he was unknown and untested, and now he is known," he said. "We have another candidate that even his own party couldn't coalesce around."

Early voting has been very successful and about 10 percent of eligible voters in Bernalillo County have already cast their ballot, according to the county clerk's office. Oliver said while the numbers probably won't be as high as 2008, they hope a higher than normal turnout this election year.

Among voters, Democrats are showing up at the polls at a higher percentage than Republicans, and the voters are increasingly Hispanic and other people of color.

A recent study by Latino Decisions found a boost of enthusiasm among Latino voters focused on issues of immigration. Sierra said this demographics' interest has the potential to sway the presidential election in New Mexico.