The Valencia County clerk called the 2020 primary “one for the books.”
“It was unreal, with so many voters. For some reason, we had a lot of people who were registered no party, Independent, Green, who wanted to vote,” said Valencia County Clerk Peggy Carabajal. “I’m not sure why they came out.”
New Mexico has closed primaries, meaning only registered Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians can vote in a primary.
Due to the current public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus, precautions such as masks and disinfecting surfaces were taken at in-person early voting locations as well as Voting Convenience Centers on Election Day, Tuesday, June 2.
The biggest precaution was the court-ordered mailing of absentee ballot applications to every major party registered voter in the state; in Valencia County there are 34,322 registered Democrats, Libertarians and Republicans.
When the polls closed at 7 p.m., about 9,400 county voters had submitted an absentee ballot out of a total of 14,793 ballots cast in this year’s primary for a turnout of nearly 43 percent.
On Election Day, the clerk said there were lines of people waiting to vote mostly due to the need to disinfect surfaces at voting sites between groups of voters.
“All through May, during early voting, there were no lines,” she said. “People could have voted then. It’s the exact same process.”
When voters received the absentee ballot application, Carabajal said they may have felt they had to send it in.
“We probably had some people who never voted absentee who did this election,” Carabajal said. “Numbers at our three early voting sites were low. I think that was due to the pandemic.”
At all county voting sites — both early and on Election Day — poll workers wore masks, washed their hands every 30 minutes and disinfected surfaces and pens.
Voters used disposal wooden popsicle sticks to sign the electronic signature pad before they voted and were asked, but not required, to wear a mask.
The response to the precautions was mixed, the clerk said.
“Some people were pretty happy that things were so clean and disinfected. Some thought it was ridiculous that we had signs up to wash your hands and we were wearing masks,” Carabajal said.
In the weeks leading up to Election Day, 2,139 ballots were cast during early voting, and 3,248 voters held out until Tuesday.
In comparison, the canvass report for the 2016 primary, shows 9,987 ballots total were cast — 6,166 from Democrats and 3,821 from Republicans. The Libertarian party was not a major party that year.
There were 969 absentee ballots, 2,231 cast in early voting and 6,787 on that Election Day.
Carabajal said there was a slow-down in sending out and getting back absentee ballots this year.
“Because we were sending out so many, we used a third-party vendor in Albuquerque — Automated Elections Solutions — so they were a bit slower going out since they were coming from Albuquerque. We didn’t have the manpower here in the office to send them out like we usually do,” the clerk said.
The other bottle neck was at the Los Lunas post office, she said. Because postage for the ballots was paid by the secretary of state, the number of ballots coming through the post office each day had to be accounted for in order to bill the state correctly.
“At one point, we didn’t get ballots for two days; we found out there was one employee doing the counting for the postage billing and he was out,” Carabajal said. “We made some complaints and the service improved.”
During early voting, two long-time, experienced poll workers had to leave their positions, the clerk said, and were replaced by members of her staff.
“Every election is a lot of work and this one had some extra challenges,” she said. “We were spread very, very thin but we worked very hard to serve the voters.”
Carabajal said there is a meeting planned for early July of the county clerks and the secretary of state to get guidance for the November general election.
“I think there will still be precautions in place,” she said. “I feel pretty good with all the precautions we took. I think we can do it again.”
Valencia County Commission
In the District 2 Valencia County Commission seat, Democrat Ralph Miramontes will face off against Republican Troy Dean Richardson.
Miramontes is a prosecution assistant for the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s office, and Richardson is a project manager.
Democrat Leroy Baca will face Republican Joseph Aaron Bizzell in the November general election.
Baca is a retired University of New Mexico-Valencia campus teacher, and Bizzell is a contractor.
The two candidates in the District 5 race — Democrat David M. Tynan and Republican incumbent Jhonathan Aragon — will both be on the ballot for the November general election.
Tynan is a retired engineering manager, and Aragon is a veterinary technician.
Valencia County Clerk
The two candidates running for Valencia County Clerk this fall will be Democrat Aurora Dolores Chavez and Republican Michael E. Milam.
Chavez is the chief deputy county clerk for the Valencia County Clerk’s Office, a position she has held since 2013.
Milam is a real estate broker for Keller Williams Realty and an owner broker for Preferred Property Management.
Valencia County Treasurer
Only two candidates filed to run for Valencia County Treasurer and both will continue on to the November General Election — Democrat Michael P. Steininger and Republican incumbent Deseri Sichler.
Steininger is the special director for the State of New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration, local government division, budget and finance bureau, and Sichler is running for her second term.
New Mexico State Senate
Democrat Paul Baca and Republican incumbent Gregory A. Baca were the only two candidates running in the primary, so they too will continue on to the November ballot.
Paul Baca is the president and CEO of Valley Improvement Association and the owner of the Long John Silver/A&W/Kicks 66 in Belen.
Gregory A. Baca, a Los Lunas attorney, is running for his second term.
In District 30, Democrat incumbent Clemente Sanchez was upset by challenger Pamela M. Cordova. She will be on the November ticket with Republican Joshua A. Sanchez.
Cordova is a retired educator, and Joshua A. Sanchez owns his own business.
Incumbent Elizabeth Stefanics had the Democratic ticket to herself, and will face Republican Joseph C. Tiano in November.
Stefanics has held the seat since 2016 and is a retired consultant. Tiano is a retired law enforcement officer with 24 years of experience.
New Mexico House of Representatives
Both unchallenged in the primary, Democrat Santos Griego and incumbent Republican Kelly Fajardo will face off on the general election ballot in the fall for the District 7 seat.
Griego is a journeyman inside wireman with the IBEW, and Fajardo is a small business owner.
In District 8, the two unchallenged primary candidates will go on to the general election — incumbent Republican Alonzo Baldonado and Democrat Paul Matthew Kinzelman.
Kinzelman is a cargo pilot and former computer engineer, and Baldonado is a real estate broker and small business owner.
In District 49, incumbent Republican Gail “Missy” Armstrong was completely unchallenged, drawing no opposition from either party. She is self employed.
In November, there will be three candidates on the ballot for District 50 — Democrat incumbent Matthew McQueen, an attorney from Lamy; Republican Christina L. Estrada, a self-employed rancher and rental property owner; and Libertarian Jerry Gage, a retired veteran.
In the District 69 race, Democrat incumbent Harry Garcia and Republican Roy Randall Ryan were both unchallenged.
Garcia has been a small business owner in Cibola County for more than 30 years. Ryan is retired from law enforcement after 33 years.
13th Judicial District Attorney
In November, Democrat Barbara Romo will go up against Republican Joshua Joe Jimenez for the position of 13th Judicial District Attorney.
Romo is the chief deputy district attorney for the 13th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, and Jimenez is one of the partner attorneys at Payne and Jimenez, a Los Lunas law firm.
Magistrate Court Judge, Division I
After the retirement of former magistrate Tina Garcia, the Division I seat was placed on the primary ballot.
Democrat Heather Benavidez and Republican Miles R. Tafoya will vie for the seat in November.
Benavidez was appointed to the Division I seat in late March after she filed to run for the position. Tafoya is a surveillance officer for the Valencia County DWI Drug Court.
13th Judicial District Court Judge
The candidates running for the three divisions in the 13th Judicial District Court judgeships were all unchallenged Democrats and will be on the ballot in November — Division 4, Cibola County, Amanda Sanchez Villalobos; and in Divisions 5 and 7, Sandoval County, Democrats James A. Noel and Chris G. Perez.