Amidst national concerns over the safety and security of the November elections in a nation still ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic, low numbers of new voter registrations have voting rights groups anxious about representation at the ballot box in an extraordinary election year.
According to the civic engagement advocacy organization Civics Center, New Mexico has seen a precipitous 79.5% decline in new voter registrations in April 2020 compared to four years prior.
8,021 individuals registered to vote in April of 2016, while only 1,644 people registered to vote during April of this year, according to the Civics Center.
The low numbers have been attributed to closures and regulations instituted during the pandemic at common sites for voter registration, such as schools and some Motor Vehicle Division field offices.
This could have broad implications for November, as many institutions fear that a low voter registration count could mean that the voter turnout for the 2020 general election will be smaller than expected.
Diane Goldfarb, the voter services chair for The League of Women Voters, echoed the sentiment that the pandemic has had a large effect on voter registration this year but added that the coronavirus has not impacted the group’s events.
“The League has so far been able to do all of the voter registration that they usually try to get out and do,” Goldfarb said.
Goldfarb also stressed that although it’s a relatively simple process to register to vote online at the secretary of state's website or through the county clerk's webpage, the organization should be promoting these methods more than they are.
“We certainly want as many people to vote as we can get.” Goldfarb said.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver has called for people to register online through posts on her official Twitter profile.
The UNM Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy also released its 2018 Election Administration, Security and Election Reform report with help from the Secretary of State's office on July 21.
“It’s wonderful to see how much confidence New Mexicans already had in our elections in 2018, and voters should know that since then we have made registering to vote and participating in our democracy even safer and easier.” Toulouse Oliver said.
That confidence wasn’t reflected in the 2018 elections, when only 55% of registered voters turned out at the ballot box.
The percentage of active voters is expected to be lower this year due to both the pandemic and the low numbers for new voter registration.
Lonna Atkeson, the director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy and executive director of the UNM Institute for Social Research, said the data gives a wide scope that could lead to changes in election protocol.
“Following the 2016 general election, claims of voter fraud, foreign interference and election tampering dominated the national spotlight,” Atkeson said. “Those conversations leaked into the 2018 election and are continuing now.”
“Understanding and addressing the root of these concerns among voters is imperative to the health of our democracy,” Atkeson added.
While voter registration is a major issue, there are other potential problems that could have a profound impact on the general election.
President Donald Trump suggested on Twitter that the general election should be delayed. However, many secretaries of states strongly condemned the idea.
Toulouse Oliver released a statement on the matter, saying, “Let me be clear: The 2020 general election in November will not be delayed as President Trump suggested today.”
Toulouse Oliver pointed out that the country has been able to conduct secure elections during previous worldwide crises such as “the Spanish Flu pandemic, the two world wars and even during the American Civil War.”
“New Mexico’s election administrators are fully prepared to conduct an efficient and fair election in November that will protect public health while allowing for a variety of secure voting options,” Toulouse Oliver added.
In addition, the introduction of new policies for the United States Postal Service (USPS) have slowed down the delivery of mail, which will affect its ability to deliver ballots on time.
While Goldfarb did state that the Bernalillo County clerk will be mailing absentee ballots to every registered voter, the new USPS policies could potentially leave thousands of votes unaccounted for.
This is due to New Mexico requiring all absentee or mail ballots be received by election officials by 7 p.m. on Election Day. Postmarked ballots that arrive after Election Day would remain uncounted.
Spencer Butler is a beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @SpencerButler48