Early voting numbers hit record highs in Valencia County

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It's 10:06 a.m. on Friday and already dozens of voters are lined up, ready to cast their ballot in the General Election at the Los Lunas early voting site inside the county administration building.

Valencia County voters have come out in droves, surpassing early voting numbers of years past. Just after 4 p.m. on Thursday, the county clerk's office was reporting 3,260 ballots cast.

Several of the voters in line on Friday waiting their turn to fill in the bubbles said they come out to vote early as a matter of course.

But Los Lunas resident Richard Burch, one of those habitual early voters, said the numbers this year are above and beyond the usual.

"I've never seen it like this. I thought I could come first thing and get back to my office," Burch said. "Usually there's a dozen people, maybe, or you can just walk right in."

The increased numbers may be due to people wanting a change, Burch said.

"I vote all the time, but I think a lot of people have given up for this reason or that," he said. "But things are getting harder and something has to change."

Others in line agreed with him.

"There are a lot of things people want to see changed," said a man who was exiting the building after voting.

Los Lunas residents Sarah Homan and her mother, June, waited patiently in line, reviewing the yellow sample ballots.

"This matters," said Sarah. "There have been a lot of budget cuts and promises that haven't been kept."

"There's an awful lot on the line," says Steve Bernauer of Los Lunas.

According to Valencia County Clerk Sally Perea, since early voting began on Oct. 20., 2,265 voters have come to the Belen and Los Lunas early in-person voting sites; 1,727 absentee ballots have been returned and 1,268 people have voted in person at the clerk's office.

There are also 1,593 absentee ballots that have been issued, she said, and they are awaiting their return.

And with early and absentee voting continuing until Nov. 2. Perea says she expects those numbers to keep increasing.

In the 2008 presidential election, about 8,300 registered county voters turned out to cast their ballots. Perea is anticipating that number will be surpassed this year.

While every election is important to the public, Perea said this one seems to have a bit more enthusiasm than usual.

"I think it's because it's a presidential election and we have all of our state senators and representatives up for reelection," Perea said. "People are coming out to vote. They are very passionate about this election."

There was a minor technical glitch with the ballot on demand printer the first day of early voting, she said.

"The printer said it was 'ready,' and the laptop could find it, but nothing would print," Perea said. "We uninstalled and reinstalled the printer, and finally someone with a little more technical savvy got it going."

And even though the Internet connection at the early voting site in Belen, the community center at Eagle Park, was intermittent for the first few days, Perea said the voting computers were relying on a Wi-Fi signal and voting continued.

"Other than that, everything has been going very well, very smoothly," she said.

But that's not to say concerns and complaints have gone completely by the wayside.

If a member of the public spots what they think is an irregularity, they are quick to bring it to the clerk's attention, Perea said.

"People do call and I go out and investigate what they report," she said. "Sometimes it's a problem I can fix, and I do, and sometimes it's a something I can't fix."

For example, if a car with campaign stickers is parked in front of a polling place while the owner goes inside to vote, that's not something Perea can prevent, she said.

"They have the right to come in and vote," she said, "and the right to support whatever candidate they want to on their vehicle."

One change that brought a flurry of calls was the disappearance of the box on the ballots to vote a "straight party ticket."

While the Legislature did away with the option to vote for all the Democrat or Republican candidates in a General Election with one flick of the pen, the ballots provided by the secretary of state included the check box up until the 2010 election, Perea said.

"People called, wanting to know what I had done with the box," she said. "I don't have that much power."

Voters were also concerned about receiving their absentee ballots by mail, after their applications had been turned in to the clerk's office.

Perea said the staff processes the absentee ballot applications every day and ballots are sent out at the end of each day.

"But once we put them in the mail, we have no control over them. People will call and say they got their ballot, but their spouse didn't," she said. "Unfortunately, we don't control the post office and the deliveries. We ask people just to be patient."

The clerk's office will accept absentee ballot applications until Friday, Nov. 2, and the last batch of ballots will go out that day, but Perea cautions people who wait that long.

"The last ballots go out on a Friday, so it might not get to you in time to return it by mail," she said.

If that is the case, a completed ballot can be returned to the clerk's office before 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Perea said she did get a call from an individual reporting that poll workers at the Belen site were asking for identification from the voters. She visited the location personally and says she didn't see anything inappropriate.

"I reminded the precinct judges that we cannot ask for ID. I know from time to time, people will hand a poll worker their ID without us asking," she said. "We give it back and send them through. There is no law requiring people to present ID to vote."

Addressing the elephant in the room — the fact that Bureau of Elections Director Peggy Carabajal is running as the Republican candidate for county clerk — Perea said, "This election is as important to me as anyone else. This is my last election and I want it to go smoothly. No one, absolutely no one in this office, would do anything to interfere with or jeopardize this election."

Carabajal is running against Democrat Lucy Gonzales.

The clerk said Carabajal doesn't handle the ballots, nor will she be involved with any kind of tallying, She is also taking leave for the two days immediately prior to Election Day, Perea said.

"Everyone in this office is doing their job according to the law. There is nothing any of us can do to give any candidate more votes than they get," she said. "There is a strict system of checks and balances in place.

"I understand this election is very important to people — it's important to me," Perea said. "All we can do is follow the law and do our jobs."


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.