Voters cast their ballots at the Bernalillo County clerk’s annex near Downtown Albuquerque. Turnout was up 23% statewide the first week after voting began. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Turnout is off to a strong start as New Mexico heads into the final three weeks before Election Day.

Through Monday morning, more than 19,700 voters had cast ballots absentee or in person since voting started last week – a 23% increase over the total from four years ago at this point in the cycle.

“We actually had a line the first two days, which is pretty unheard of,” Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine Clark said. “It tends to be sleepy the first week.”

Republicans have shown the biggest increase so far, with a 41% jump in the number of ballots cast by GOP voters. About 7,300 Republicans had turned out by Monday morning this year, compared to 5,100 at a similar point in 2018.

Democrats, however, still make up the largest share of ballots cast. Their numbers are up 18% so far, climbing from about 9,000 votes in 2018 to 11,000 this year.

All other voters – independents, Libertarians and minor parties – increased by just 1%.

It’s unclear whether the increased participation is a sign of heavy turnout that will last through Election Day, or if voters are simply choosing to cast their ballots earlier in the cycle than in past years.

Deputy Bernalillo County Clerk Jaime Diaz said voters are turning increasingly to absentee ballots, perhaps after trying them for the first time at the height of the pandemic.

In 2018, about 24,000 voters cast absentee ballots in Bernalillo County. But this year, he said, the clerk’s office has already mailed out nearly 35,000 ballots to people who have requested them.

Expanded early voting starts Saturday, when counties will open a broader set of polling locations. Until then, each county is offering one in-person voting location.

For people who want to cast a ballot in person, the busiest times right now are usually first thing in the morning or around lunchtime, officials said. Once expanded hours start Saturday, polling places tend to get busiest again around 5:30 p.m. as people leave work.

Turnout in the 2018 general election – the last governor’s race – reached 56%. But it was just 40% in 2014, the last time an incumbent governor was up for reelection.

This year’s ballot features races for governor, other statewide offices, three congressional seats and a host of local races.

Clark, the Santa Fe County clerk, encouraged voters to allow for seven days in the mail each way if they are voting absentee. The ballots can also be dropped off in person.

“People are very aware there’s an election going on right now,” Clark said. “There seems to be a lot of turnout, a lot of enthusiasm.”