What Happened: Election Day in New Mexico

In an election year scarred by COVID, bullying, misinformation and subterfuge, there is finally a winner: democracy. Sort of. 

In the most important election in the world, voters braved COVID to end our long national nightmare and oust Donald Trump. In the U.S. Senate Democrats needed to obtain 51 seats to gain the majority in January. New Mexicans did their part by elevating Ben Ray Lujan to the upper chamber, electing our first Hispanic U.S. senator since the year Saturday Night Fever premiered.  Senator-elect Lujan will join Martin Heinrich but control of the US Senate is still too close to call.

New Mexicans easily returned Congresswoman Deb Haaland to Congress, where her position as one of the country’s few Native American legislators will continue to serve her, and New Mexico, well. Predictably, Democrats will retain control of the US House.

Down south, one of the most expensive Congressional races in the country ($30 million and counting!) is still too close to call. In spite of COVID, New Mexicans turned out in record numbers in record ways, setting new records for absentee voting and overall voter turnout. 

Statewide, voters cemented Democratic control in the governor’s office, state legislature and state courts-all key parts of decennial redistricting set to draw election lines that determine political control and electoral representation for the next ten years. 

Public Regulation Commission

Most people can’t name their public regulation commissioner, but these overlooked electeds are among the most powerful in the state. They determine how much you pay for internet and electricity and ensure your bachelorette party limo service arrives safely. In Albuquerque, Democrat Cynthia Hall cruised to re-election over perennial Tea Partier Janice Arnold Jones. Former Santa Fe City Councilor Joseph Maestas will represent the northern New Mexico seat.

But, but, but … on the ballot was Constitutional Amendment 1 supported by the governor and environmental groups which would convert the elected PRC to an appointed one beginning in 2023.  By publication time, this amendment appears to be on track to pass, making these officials the last elected to the PRC.

State Judiciary

Democrats Shannon Bacon and David Thompson easily won election to the State Supreme Court, protecting a 4-to-1 Democrat-Republican majority on the court. Chief Justice Judith Nakamura, the lone Republican, has said she will retire in December, giving Governor Lujan Grisham the opportunity to appoint a new justice and potentially create an all-Democratic supreme court. All three Democratic women on the ticket for the Court of Appeals appear poised to keep their seats, but many votes remained outstanding at press time. If they win Democrats will maintain an 8-to-1 majority there.

State Senate

On paper Democrats hold a solid 26-to-16 majority in the State Senate. But those numbers have been deceiving, as a small caucus of conservative Democrats have acted more like Republicans to oppose abortion rights, gun violence prevention and other key party initiatives. Progressive groups ousted the worst of the worst in the June primaries. At least two of those progressives (Pam Cordova in Grants/Los Lunas and Neomi Martinez-Parra in Deming/Las Cruces) are trailing Republicans at press time. But even if they lose it may not change vote counts much since conservative Dems Clemente Sanchez and John Arthur Smith frequently voted against Democrats on key votes. 

In the Albuquerque area, Majority Leader Peter Wirth and Majority Whip Mimi Stewart flipped a number of seats for Dems. Senators-elect Pam Cordova, Katy Duhigg, and Claudia Risner all ousted Republicans and Harold Pope, Jr. appears to be on track to replace the GOP’s Sander Rue. Pope would be the state’s first African American senator. Democrat Dr. Martin Hickey also appears headed to have picked up a seat from Republicans in the Northeast Heights. He will add an important medical voice during this pandemic.  Brenda McKenna will keep Corrales’ District 9 blue. In Las Cruces, Senator-elect Carrie Hamblin will become just the third LGBTQ state senator.

In the Valencia County battle of Baca vs. Baca, Republican Greg Baca appears to have held off a challenge from Democrat Paul Baca. District 28 in Silver City (Siah Correa Hemphill vs. “Jimbo” Williams) still appears too close to call.

State House

Speaker Brian Egolf will add a few more Democrats to his caucus. In the Albuquerque area, Democratic consultant Meredith Dixon won the Four Hills-area seat from retiring legislator Abbas Akhil. In District 40 (Rio Arriba, Mora, San Miguel, Colfax), Roger Montoya will add another LGBTQ voice to the House.

In an odd race in the South Valley, Rep. Pat Ruiloba was disqualified from re-election when he messed up his nominating petitions. He resigned and the county commission appointed their old coworker Art de La Cruz–but de La Cruz was appointed too late to get on the ballot, so he’s running as a write-in. Independent Brittney Barreras, a twentysomething LGBTQ is the only name on the ballot. This election will take time because of the write-ins. Stay tuned.

While the Republican caucus in the House appears to be smaller, there are a few bright spots for the GOP. In the East Mountains, gun-totin’ Trump-supportin’ Stefani Lord is leading Democrat Jessica Velasquez in District 22.  Republican Bill Rehm, in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights, may be the lone Republican reelected to represent a district in the city.  Likewise in Las Cruces, Democrat Rep. Rudy Martinez is trailing Republican Luis Terrazas.

With votes still outstanding, Republican Rep. Rebecca Dow is fighting a strong challenge from Karen Whitlock in the Truth or Consequences/Silver City District 38. Even if she wins, Dow still faces a strong ethics investigation involving no-bid state contracts to her family-run childcare organization. 

Overall, Democrats retain strong control of the State House and look to add more women of color and an LGBTQ member to their ranks in January.

Bernalillo County Commission

Bernalillo County’s lone Republican Commissioner, Lonnie Talbert, can’t run again by law. Democrats really want to take this seat, securing an all-Democrat commission for 2021. Credit union executive Wende Schwingendorf is challenging Republican George Benson, local ice cream shop owner. As of press time, this race was still too close to call.

New Law Requires Absentee Vote Counts To Stop at 11pm

When it comes to counting absentee ballots, election workers have to spend just as much time separating the envelopes and verifying your information as you had to spend putting it all together in the first place.
Will all that extra work delay election results this year? Not really says Alex Curtas, spokesman for Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Under New Mexico law, counties with more than 10,000 absentee ballot requests can start processing those ballots before Election Day. “Counties like Bernalillo and Dona Ana had already processed most of the absentee ballots that arrived before today,” Curtas told The Paper. Tuesday morning. “Today, absentee precinct boards will mostly be handling absentee ballots dropped off on Election Day.”

A new law passed by the legislature this year requiring absentee ballot counters to stop counting at 11pm on Election Day. That helps to prevent any fatigue and errors in late night counting. While there will likely be a few places where all the absentee ballots aren’t counted by 11pm, Curtas says voters shouldn’t worry. Uncounted ballots are secured by the clerk and workers will pick up the next day and work until every vote is counted.

Can a candidate declare themselves a winner?

Nope. Candidates and talking heads often “declare” a winner once enough votes are in to predict the result. But under New Mexico law, election results are not official until they are certified by the state canvassing board, which does not meet until “the third Tuesday after a statewide election.”  The board consists of the governor, the chief justice of the Supreme Court and the secretary of state. In modern elections, where results are compiled and shared online almost instantly, their work is mostly pro-forma–unless a race is really, really close. If the initial count of votes shows the candidates within 0.5% of each other, the canvassing board is required to order a recount, which can take several weeks to complete. In other words, if a race is close it doesn’t matter which candidate declares victory. It only matters what the final count says.

Green Wave Ushers In New Legalization States

11 states have already legalized cannabis for adults and voters in at least two other states voted by big margins to be next.  Add New Jersey and Arizona to the list. Montana and South Dakota also voted but results are not yet in.

Oregon voters had the chance on Tuesday to legalize psilocybin use but their use of mail-in ballots means we’ll have to wait a week or so to find out results. [ ]

The wackiest election of my lifetime” is attributed to Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block (R)