Vote Ballot Box Hand Suit Vote  - pjedrzejczyk / Pixabay
pjedrzejczyk / Pixabay

By Robert Nott The Santa Fe New Mexican

A new report says a slight majority of New Mexico voters have confidence in statewide election procedures and results.

But voters in the state were more skeptical of the election process nationwide. Just 41 percent of those surveyed after the 2020 general election said they felt confident in the results of that year’s presidential race between Democratic candidate Joe Biden — who won by 10.8 percentage points in New Mexico and 4.4 points nationwide — and Republican Donald Trump.

More troubling, the report said, is that 70 percent of voters surveyed said they believe it’s possible someone — a political group, a union, an employer — could find out who they voted for.

The University of New Mexico Department of Politics produced the report in collaboration with the Secretary of State’s Office. Released Wednesday, the “2020 New Mexico Election Administration, Voter Security, and Election Reform Report” portrays a state electorate that is mostly satisfied with how the election process is handled.

Still, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver noted in a virtual news conference Wednesday the survey indicates distrust remains over the results of the 2020 presidential election. There was “lots of false rhetoric” around the country that led to the lack of confidence, she said, adding, “we don’t necessarily have that trust in other places.”

Toulouse Oliver said the elections report — the eighth conducted by UNM — allows her office “to review and assess the performance of elections in New Mexico and what is working well, what needs to improve.” 

The report is based on surveys of about 4,500 voters from around the state. They were asked about their election experience in 2020, how they voted, what kinds of interactions they had with poll workers and their attitudes about election fraud, reform and voter identification requirements. 

Oliver and Lonna Atkeson, a former UNM political science professor who co-authored the report, said at the news conference the results show most people who participated in the survey had positive experiences while voting. 

The majority of those surveyed said poll workers were helpful, wait times were relatively short — 20 minutes on average during the early voting period and shorter for those who cast ballots on Election Day — and the voting process, by mail or in person, was not challenging.

Voters found polling places were easy to find and not too far out of their way, and parking wasn’t a problem, the report said.

About 35 percent of New Mexico voters cast ballots by mail in 2020, an increase of 25 percent from 2018.

While voting by mail is becoming more popular, Atkeson said, that doesn’t mean they would favor it as their only option.

“Do people support people voting by mail? Yes,” Atkeson said. “Do people want an election that is only mail — that is their only choice for voting? No. That’s an important distinction. People are OK with voting by mail, but they don’t think that’s the only way we should be voting.”

Atkeson said the positive results of the survey show state election officials can build confidence in voters by ensuring polls are easy to access and navigate. 

“In a state where we are often not in the top 10 [in national reports], elections is a place where I would say we really excel because of the commitment of our election officials across the state to the process and making it better,” Atkeson said.  

Toulouse Oliver said she was concerned by the 70 percent of voters who said they believe someone could access their ballot — and the 37 percent who said elected officials can find out how they voted.

“Many voters don’t understand that their ballot is secret,” Toulouse Oliver said. “And no one, not even election officials, can see who you voted for. That’s an issue we have to conscientiously address.”

Alex Curtas, a spokesman for Toulouse Oliver, said officials at the agency were “shocked” by those statistics. The agency needs to do more public education campaigns to explain how the voting process works to protect voters’ confidentiality at the polls, he added.

The report comes just a day after lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 8, the New Mexico Voting Rights Act, which aims to increase voter participation and access to the polls through a number of measures. It’s a high priority for both Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and Toulouse Oliver during the current legislative session. 

The bill would create a permanent absentee voter list, make Election Day a state holiday, allow 16-year-olds to vote in local elections and allow residents who do not have a state-issued identification card to register to vote online using their Social Security number.

When it comes to voter identification requirements, 77 percent of those surveyed for the UNM report said they believe voters should provide some form of photo ID when casting a ballot. Most like the idea of using the last four digits of a Social Security number as a form of ID.

The study said Republicans have consistently favored voter identification laws. The number of Democrats expressing more support for such laws rose from 48 percent in 2018 to 61 percent in 2020, according to the report. 

The report also said 60 percent of those surveyed favored electing a president based on a popular vote rather than the Electoral College system. 

Curtas said the Secretary of State’s Office used about $50,000 from the Help America Vote Act to pay for the study.