Absentee and Mail Voting: New Mexico in Comparison to Other States

6/19/2020

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Introduction

Voting outside the polling place (also known as absentee voting, voting by mail, voting at home and, in this report, “absentee/mail voting”) has been on the rise for at least 20 years. But this year, it has particularly taken off. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused most states to consider their procedures for handling significantly increased absentee/mail voting during the primary elections, a trend that is likely to continue in November’s general election.

Below are four tabs. Click on the arrows to learn more about each topic. 

COVID-19 and 2020 Elections

As COVID-19 began to hit the U.S. and stay-at-home orders were put in place, states realized that an election as a public event could be difficult to run from a purely practical perspective. Would the usual number of poll workers volunteer to work? Would the usual polling places still make themselves available? The answers to both questions in the early primary states seemed to be “no.” Hence, states quickly looked for other solutions, such as increasing absentee/mail voting.

Eventually 19 states chose to delay their primaries, with some states doing so twice. The delays were not just to get beyond the window of vulnerability from COVID-19—we now know that it could be many months before the public health threat is tamed—but to give election officials a chance to reduce the risk of these public events spreading the coronavirus as voters gather, wait in lines and use the same equipment.

Because of concerns about COVID-19, states developed several ways to encourage voters to cast absentee/mail ballots. For instance, in the 16 states that ask a voter to provide a reason, or excuse, for voting absentee, 12 states issued public statements or executive orders saying that a fear of contracting the novel coronavirus was a sufficient reason to vote absentee in the primaries. This opened the door for more voters to make their own determination about whether they wanted to vote in person or at home. New Mexico has been a no-excuse absentee state since 1993. Requirements that voters provide an excuse to cast an absentee ballot are currently being litigated in Alabama, Connecticut, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas.

Twelve states require, in addition to the voter’s signature to request an absentee ballot, a signature of one or two witnesses or a notary’s signature. In two of these states, the requirement has been reduced or eliminated for primaries this year because of COVID-19. New Mexico does not ask for more than the voter’s signature.

More than a dozen states sent ballot request applications to every registered voter, to be sure that all voters knew this was an option if they preferred voting from home.

Whatever approach a state has taken, running a primary election during a public health crisis has been challenging—and costly. In states that encouraged more mail voting by sending ballot applications to all voters, significant numbers of voters were not able to act fast enough to receive a ballot and return it in time to have their votes counted, possibly because mail service has deteriorated over recent years with particular delays in rural service. Some of these states also found that they underestimated how many people would still vote in person, creating long lines in some jurisdictions. In other words, states found it was hard to change processes quickly, and hard to predict voters’ choices and therefore plan resources appropriately.

In states that stayed mostly on their traditional paths, in-person polling places were hard-pressed during primaries to quickly equip workers and voters with appropriate protective gear, and it is yet to be known whether a state could be found liable for the transmission of COVID-19 in a polling place. In March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released several recommendations to achieve safer elections, including more mail-in voting, early voting, relocating polling places located near vulnerable populations (senior centers, for example), rigorous disinfection protocols and social distancing.

In other words, there is no easy answer for New Mexico or any state, given the uncertainties of the times.

This report is intended to provide New Mexico with information about its options, based on choices other states are pioneering. It is divided into two sections:

  • Part I addresses the issues frequently raised when expansions of absentee/mail voting are considered by legislatures. These include whether increased absentee/mail voting has a disparate effect on the partisan makeup of the electorate, whether absentee/mail voting is secure, how all-mail states have structured their policies, and the impact of emergency powers statutes in governing this policy sphere.
     
  • Part II lists the specific policy choices that New Mexico’s legislature may address when considering increased absentee/mail voting by comparing the state’s election laws to those in the other 49 states.

PART I: The Pros and Cons of New Mexico's Policy Options

If New Mexico expects to see more voters opting to vote by mail, or wants to encourage more absentee/mail voting, it has two main avenues, detailed below. In brief, states can:

  • Mail an application to all voters so they can request an absentee/mail ballot. This option has been used by 14 states in the primaries so far, including New Mexico. Two states, Illinois and Pennsylvania, are currently considering legislation to do so, with Illinois proposing to continue the practice for the general election.
  • Move to some version of an all-mail, or “mostly mail,” model. Five states already mail a ballot—not a ballot application—to all voters. These states vary in how much in-person voting they offer in addition to the mailed ballots. On the low end, Oregon simply has county election offices available for any in-person needs. On the upper end, Colorado provides vote centers during an early voting period and through Election Day. Some refer to the Colorado model as a “voter’s choice” option.

Because the legislature establishes election policy, deciding whether to mail applications or mail ballots is something lawmakers typically consider through the bill-making process. Yet, in our current emergency, almost all these options have been adopted through governors’ executive orders or by state election officials. In the aftermath of the pandemic, states may choose to review the emergency powers invested in their state officials, as they apply to election emergencies or beyond. These decisions alter the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.

This section includes more on:

Turnout, Potentially Disparate Effects, Security and Partisanship

At any point when legislators weigh new election options, they’re likely to be interested in what the change will mean for turnout; whether any specific demographic groups might be harmed by the change even if overall turnout goes up; how secure the method is in relation to in-person voting; and whether the change is likely to benefit one political party over another. The same is true in a pandemic. So, we address these topics within the context of fuller explanations of both mailing out ballot request applications and moving to a mostly mail system.

Turnout

Research shows that increases in mail voting are correlated with increases in overall voter turnout. Utah provides a case study. It transitioned to a primarily vote-by-mail system by permitting counties to “opt in” to the practice during the 2010s. An analysis of the 2016 general election in Utah found that turnout was 8.7% higher in counties mailing all voters a ballot as compared with counties that relied mostly on traditional in-person voting. Similar trends were found in Colorado, which saw increased turnout in the first election held under the vote-by-mail system, with particularly strong turnout among demographic groups that generally vote less frequently.

The 2020 primary elections have been a laboratory of sorts, with states across the nation recording dramatic increases in the number of ballots cast by mail. According to data gathered by the National Vote at Home Institute, turnout in the primaries was greater in states that mailed ballots to all voters. This data also shows that higher rates of mail voting were correlated with higher turnout. While, as Politifact notes, increases in turnout cannot be solely attributed to increases in mail voting, the correlation is strong.

Potentially Disparate Effects

As with all policy changes, increasing the quantity of absentee/mail ballots has tradeoffs that benefit certain groups more than others. Absentee/mail ballots are more convenient for voters with stable addresses. Voters without permanent addresses, such as people experiencing homelessness and voters who do not have reliable mail delivery, such as many Native Americans, may find voting by mail is not easy. A system that decreases the number of polling places in favor of increased absentee/mail voting will have to balance the effects on these communities.

Voters with disabilities face unique challenges with absentee/mail ballots. A 2017 report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office highlighted the many impediments voters with disabilities encounter when casting a ballot. While they present their own challenges, in-person polling places can assist voters with disabilities to ensure they are able to cast a safe and secure ballot. Disabilities vary widely, and every person with a disability has different needs and access to different technology and therefore will see a mail ballot either as an advantage or an impediment. While some voters with disabilities may be able to request large-print or Braille mail and absentee ballots, or receive their ballots electronically, others may require electronic ballot marking systems or other accommodations available only when voting in person. Policymakers should be aware of these unique needs when designing an increased absentee/mail voting system.  

Security

Will a proposed change in voting practices increase, decrease or leave unchanged the likelihood that all votes will be recorded correctly, and that only votes from eligible voters are counted? This question is hard to answer because voter fraud is rare and hard to quantify. Even so, two national experts on elections, Charles Stewart III of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Amber McReynolds, the former director of Denver’s Election Division, addressed this question in April, in the essay “Let’s Put the Vote-by-Mail ‘Fraud’ Myth to the Test.” Security is enhanced because absentee/mail voting, by definition, uses paper ballots. These are needed if an audit is called for, either because questions arose or because state law provides for routine audits (as it does in New Mexico). Beyond that, the most important security step is the verification of the signature on the outside of the envelope in which the ballot is returned. Verifying the authenticity of a signature is a skill. States that use signature verification may seek training from law enforcement officials, employ technology that can determine the level of certainty that a signature is a match and/or provide for comparison several signatures from the voter collected from various governmental sources. The verification approval itself is likely to be conducted by bipartisan teams. In fact, states often use bipartisan teams handle all aspects of ballot verification and counting and have robust physical security and chain-of-custody procedures to maintain the integrity of the process. States are also likely to have meaningful penalties for tampering with, or hindering the delivery of, absentee/mail ballots. Some states have added limits on the number of ballots any individual can collect and return for voters, in an effort to reduce the possibility for coercion. These actions become more important as a state becomes more reliant on absentee/mail voting.

That said, the starting point for running secure mostly mail elections is to have clean voter lists. The more accurate the state’s information about voters is, the less likely ballots will be mailed to incorrect addresses. This issue is addressed further in Section II.

Partisan Effect

An often-discussed aspect of increasing mail voting is that it will skew the political outcome in favor of one party over the other. Research does not bear this out. Colorado switched to a hybrid voting model, with all voters mailed a ballot while preserving significant in-person voting opportunities, in 2013. A study of the 2014 midterm elections in Colorado (the first held under the new model) found that while turnout was higher than in previous midterm cycles for Republicans and Democrats alike, the boost was ever-so-slightly higher for Republicans. A similar study of Utah’s mail voting in 2016 found a slight, but not statistically significant, advantage for Democrats. More recently, a paper from researchers at Stanford University found that increasing mail-in ballots increased turnout across parties, with no statistically significant political benefit to one side or the other.

In fact, the record indicates that the trend toward increasing mail-in voting is bipartisan. In 1998, Oregon voters approved a ballot measure to switch to an all-mail election system—the first of its kind in the nation. In that same election, voters elected Republican majorities to both chambers of Oregon’s legislature. Since then, four additional states—Colorado, Hawaii, Utah and Washington—have adopted election systems in which all voters are mailed a ballot. Three additional states—California, Nebraska and North Dakota—permit counties to choose whether to mail all voters a ballot. Another 14 states, including Republican-controlled Iowa, Georgia and North Dakota, pledged to send absentee/mail ballot applications to all registered voters; most of them did so through executive orders.

Option One: Sending Absentee/Mail Ballot Applications to All Voters

Prior to COVID-19, sending absentee/mail ballot applications to all voters was rarely used anywhere in the nation. Since the pandemic began, 14 states quickly determined this was a way to encourage voters to vote absentee/mail ballots in their primaries, thus reducing both the fear of spreading the virus through voting and the strain on in-person voting caused by a dearth of poll workers and available polling places.

Pros

  • This option keeps voters in control of their voting experience. They have the choice to fill out the application and receive a ballot in the mail, or to go to an in-person polling place.
  • This option may not require legislative action, in that it does not change the basic legal structure (deadlines, signatures, excuses) for absentee/mail voting.
  • The mass mailing of the ballot application is likely to generate many bounce-backs, so those returned mailings provide information a state can use to clean its voter registration lists, so that when ballots themselves are mailed out, they go to eligible voters at the correct address.
  • Ballots themselves are only mailed to those who applied, so money isn’t wasted on mailing complete ballot packages to bad addresses.
  • Turnout increased during the 2020 primaries in states where ballot applications were mailed out, when compared with turnout in 2016 primaries. Other factors can of course apply to turnout as well.

Cons

  • This option requires the voter to take two actions: request the ballot and, later, vote the ballot.
  • The state must send two mailings to many people: the application first and, later on, the ballot, for a total of four transactions when including the return mailings.
  • Many Americans pay little attention to “government mail” and might overlook the application when it arrives, a problem that can be mitigated to an extent by good design, something the U.S. Postal Service and nonprofit organizations can help with.

Variation

Five states have “permanent absentee voting” lists, also known as “single sign-on” absentee voting. In these states, a voter indicates just once that he or she would like to always receive an absentee/mail ballot, rather than making that request for every election or every year. Over time, in states that have such lists, elections shift from more in-person voting to more absentee voting. Arizona has such a list, and in 2018, 77% of voters used a mail ballot. For comparison, in New Mexico that year, 9% of voters used a mail ballot.

Option Two: Moving to All-Mail (or Mostly Mail) Voting

Five states use vote-by-mail elections, which means these states mail all registered voters a ballot for every election. Because they are reliant on the mail, these states have worked to ensure that they know who their voters are and where to find them—through list maintenance, which is done after mailings related to the primary election.

These states vary in how much in-person voting they offer. In order from most to least:

Colorado adopted a vote-by-mail statewide model in 2013. The same legislative package also included a number of other changes to election processes: implementing same-day registration, reducing the residency requirement in the state to eight days and requiring that counties provide a minimum amount of in-person voting at Voter Service and Polling Centers (VSPCs) based on population. Counties with a population below 10,000 active voters are only required to have one VSPC, and the requirements scale up from there. These VSPCs are open for at least two weeks prior to Election Day as well as on the day itself, and counties are required to increase the number of VSPCs available to voters leading up to Election Day. Colorado also requires that counties provide one ballot drop box per 30,000 voters, and the locations must be monitored by 24-hour security.

Hawaii adopted absentee/mail voting in 2019 with implementation set for 2020. Hawaii’s model is similar to Colorado’s in that Voter Service Centers (VSCs) are available for voters to visit at any location established within their county. Hawaii requires that at least one VSC be established at the office of the county clerk, and counties may establish additional locations within their boundaries as needed. VSCs must be open beginning 10 business days prior to Election Day. Hawaii also requires locations to be established for voters to drop off their ballots, with the number and location of drop boxes left to the discretion of the county.

Utah began the transition to absentee/mail voting in 2012 and completed it in 2020. Its 2012 legislation allowed counties to decide whether to conduct elections by mail, rather than creating a statewide requirement. In 2018, two counties still used a traditional polling place model. In 2020, all counties are using absentee/mail voting. Utah requires that each county provide at least one voting center for in-person voting on Election Day, with an additional voting center required for every 5,000 voters who have requested not to receive a ballot by mail. Counties are also required to provide at least one polling place for early voting, which begins 14 days prior to Election Day. Utah does not have provisions requiring ballot drop boxes; the decision to provide drop boxes is left to the county election officer.

Washington moved toward absentee/mail voting over the course of a dozen years, completing the transition in 2011. Its initial authorizing language, like that in Utah, allowed counties to decide for themselves if they wanted to transition. Washington requires each county to provide at least one location for in-person voting, and counties have the discretion to provide additional voting centers. Voting centers are required to be open 18 days prior to Election Day. Washington requires counties to establish one ballot drop box per every 15,000 voters, and requires drop boxes to be established on Indian reservations, in consultation with tribal leadership.

Oregon began moving toward absentee/mail voting in the 1990s, starting with smaller elections and gradually expanding until in 2000 all elections were held by mail. Oregon requires counties to establish a minimum of one in-person voting location for Election Day based on population; counties with more than 35,000 voters must provide one voting location per every additional 20,000 voters. Oregon does not have specific provisions for early in-person voting, but ballot drop boxes are available as soon as ballots are mailed out. Oregon requires counties to provide two ballot drop boxes per county, with an additional drop box required per every 30,000 voters.

Variation

Rather than an entire state moving to all-mail (or mostly mail) elections at once, counties can be authorized to make the shift. Utah and Washington each moved to fully mail systems by first authorizing counties to decide. In Utah, legislation was enacted in 2012. By 2020, all counties in the state had adopted all-mail systems. In Washington, more than five years elapsed between initial authorization and full statewide adoption. 

Pros to Moving Toward More Mail Voting

  • Because of COVID-19, mail voting may be safer from both public health and personal health viewpoints.
  • Voting by mail allows voters to study their ballots and other election materials at a time that is convenient for them.
  • Once implemented, voting by mail is less costly than in-person voting, according to the states that have adopted this system.
  • Because only one mailing is required, sending absentee ballots to all voters can be less expensive than sending ballot applications and later the ballots themselves. If prepaid return postage is included for both mailings, the savings will be greater.
  • Voting by mail increases turnout. In small elections, such as municipal elections, the difference can be remarkable; in general elections, it is harder to parse out the effect, but studies do point to increases.

Cons

  • People with disabilities may be adversely affected by all-mail elections. It depends on what the disability is and whether the voter can complete a paper ballot independently at home or not. By federal law, polling places are required to have voting equipment that is fully accessible.
  • For Native Americans, mail service may be spotty, post office boxes may be used for multiple households and frequent address changes are not uncommon, making voting by mail more of a challenge. Some of these issues may be true for all rural residents. (These challenges are a reason several of the states listed above created in-person voting options in addition to absentee/mail voting.)
  • The tradition of voting is altered. It is no longer an opportunity to see one’s neighbors and enjoy a shared civic duty.
  • As the number of ballots that are completed outside a polling place increases, so does the number of rejected ballots. At an in-person polling place, when a ballot has errors—the voter voted for more than the allotted number of candidates or made a mistake and circled or crossed out a selection—it would be flagged and the voter would have an opportunity to correct it. Once an absentee/mail ballot is received, it isn’t possible to give the voter a chance to correct an error.

Beyond these shared pros and cons, the difference in how much in-person voting is available varies greatly. Of course, by offering more generous in-person voting options, some of the savings associated with moving to vote-by-mail elections may be reduced. Still, Colorado reports savings over its previous method, when most people voted by mail but many precinct-based polling places were required.

Emergency Powers

Because of the pandemic, it won’t be surprising if many states review the emergency powers they have available to executive branch officials. Right now, six states provide the governor or the secretary of state the power to change the date of an election, 18 states provide the power to change the location of an election, and six states provide both the power to delay and to relocate an election. 

In response to COVID-19, two states have enacted legislation that provides emergency authority to change the method of holding an election. Alaska’s new law grants the governor the power to hold elections by mail in 2020 only. Kentucky’s new law lets the governor, upon the recommendation of the secretary of state, adjust the “time, place or manner for holding elections” when a state of emergency has been declared. “Manner” could include a move to more absentee/mail voting. 

In addition, governors may have broader emergency powers, beyond statutes that explicitly speak of only elections. Emergency powers are subject to interpretation—which means they are subject to dispute, as has been seen in the pandemic. The National Governors Association (NGA) has published a report on this topic.

PART II: Absentee/Mail Voting in New Mexico Compared With Other States

While election officials deal with the administration of elections—and thus make decisions on logistics such as facilities, equipment, supplies, processes and personnel—state legislators set policy. NCSL has created the “Voting Outside the Polling Place” report to provide detailed information on policy decision points for legislators.

We explore those points below and compare New Mexico’s policies with those in the other 49 states. These include:

Voter Registration List Maintenance

Clean voter registration lists are the first step in running good elections in any setting, but especially so when there are absentee/mail ballots being sent out to voters. Online voter registration systems and the ability for voters to update their information online are other crucial steps toward having accurate and reliable voter lists.

Is online voter registration and online registration updating available?

National Scope: Thirty-nine states currently offer online voter registration.

New Mexico: Yes. New Mexico’s system allows voters to register online and update their information online. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-4-18.1.)

Does the state participate in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which is a nationwide clearinghouse that provides states with data on potential duplicate, or defunct, registrations?

National Scope: Thirty states are members of ERIC.

New Mexico: Yes. New Mexico is a member of ERIC.

Does the state use National Change of Address records for list maintenance purposes?

National Scope: Thirty-six states authorize the use of NCOA records for list maintenance.

New Mexico: Yes. In New Mexico, between 90 and 120 days prior to the general election, the secretary of state sends postcards to all voters identified as having address changes based on data from the National Change of Address records, as well as all voters who have been marked as having undeliverable mail returned. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-4-28, § 1-4-29.)

Qualifying for an Absentee/Mail Ballot

Some states require voters to meet criteria to vote absentee, such as being out of the country on Election Day or having a disability. Others do not. And still others offer a permanent absentee list. 

Is an excuse required to vote absentee or by mail?

National Scope: Thirty-four states do not require a voter to provide a reason or excuse for requesting an absentee/mail ballot. Sixteen states continue to ask voters to identify a reason for their request.

New Mexico: No. New Mexico is with the majority of states in not requiring an excuse for a voter to vote absentee. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-3.)

Does the state maintain a permanent absentee list?

National Scope: Five states maintain permanent absentee lists so that voters can indicate with a single sign-on that they prefer to receive a mail ballot for all future elections, while several other states do so but only for people with disabilities or voters older than a given age.

New Mexico: No. New Mexico does not maintain a permanent absentee list.

Requesting an Absentee/Mail Ballot

States vary in the methods voters may use to request absentee/mail ballots and in how much other people can help voters acquire their ballots.

Does the state offer an online portal for requesting an absentee/mail ballot?

National Scope: At least 12 states offer the option of online portals where a voter can request an absentee/mail ballot. Two additional states have announced their intention to create an online portal as a result of election changes due to COVID-19.

New Mexico: Yes. In 2019 the legislature authorized the creation of an online absentee/mail ballot request tool, which is now live.

Can third-party individuals or groups distribute absentee/mail ballot applications and collect completed applications?

National Scope: At least 27 states in some way restrict the distribution and collection of absentee/mail ballot applications, including prohibiting third-party groups from doing so or designating deadlines or turnaround times for the applications to be submitted.

New Mexico: Yes. Third parties may distribute, collect or solicit absentee/mail ballot applications. The applications are required to be submitted within 48 hours of completion, and a person who collects applications and fails to submit them can be charged with a misdemeanor. A person who intentionally alters a voter’s completed application can be charged with a felony. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-4.3, § 1-6-5.)

In 2020, have states mailed or announced plans to mail an absentee/mail ballot application to all registered voters?

National Scope: At least 14 states have mailed, or announced plans to mail, absentee/mail ballot applications to all registered voters. These decisions largely apply to 2020 primary elections only.

New Mexico: For the June 2 primary, the state sent out absentee/mail ballot applications to every registered voter eligible to participate. This followed a decision by the state Supreme Court to deny a petition brought by county clerks from across the state seeking to require the state to send ballots to all voters for the primary.

Returning a Voted Absentee/Mail Ballot

States also vary in terms of how absentee/mail ballots can be turned in.

Does the state provide ballot drop boxes in some or all counties?

National Scope: Ten states provide ballot drop boxes in some or all counties.

New Mexico: Yes. New Mexico allows counties to provide ballot drop boxes, which must be a secured container monitored by security cameras. These locations must also include signage warning about restrictions on ballot collection and electioneering. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-9.)

Who can collect and drop off absentee/mail ballots on behalf of a voter?

National Scope: Twenty-seven states allow voter to designate someone to return their ballots, and 12 states place limits on the number of ballots a person can collect or return.

New Mexico: Immediate family members or caregivers of a voter may deliver the voter’s absentee/mail ballot, provided the voter has signed the official mailing envelope.  (N.M. Stat. Ann. §§ 1-6-9(E)(a), 1-6-10.1.)

Does the state have a system for voters to track their absentee/mail ballots?

National Scope: At least 19 states mandate an online system be available for voters to track their absentee/mail ballots. Thirteen other states maintain such a system without a requirement in statute.

New Mexico: Yes. New Mexico requires that the secretary of state provide a tracking system voters can use to monitor the status of their ballots. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-9.)

Does the state (or county) pay for postage to return an absentee/mail ballot?

National Scope: Sixteen states have statutes requiring local election officials to provide postage for ballots returned through the mail.

New Mexico: Yes. The secretary of state is required to provide county clerks with postage-paid official mailing envelopes for voters to use to return their ballots. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-8.)

Processing, Verifying and Counting Absentee/Mail Ballots

States deploy an array of options regarding verifying the authenticity of absentee/mail ballots. States also vary in terms of deadlines, correcting ballot errors and reporting results.

How are voted absentee/mail ballots verified by election officials?

National Scope: Thirty-one states conduct signature-verification processes. Six states verify that envelopes have been signed but do not conduct signature verification. Eight states require the signature of a witness, and three states require the envelope to be notarized.

New Mexico: New Mexico requires that voters sign a form on the back of their ballot envelope to be returned with their absentee/mail ballot; if the signature is missing, the ballot is rejected. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-9.)

Does a voter have the opportunity to fix, or cure, a missing signature or signature discrepancy?

National Scope: At least 20 states require that voters be notified when there is a discrepancy or missing signature and be given an opportunity to correct it.

New Mexico: Yes. New Mexico provides a process for voters to cure their signatures. If a voter's signature is missing, the ballot is rejected and is then treated the same as a rejected provisional ballot, with an opportunity for the voter to appeal and correct the deficiency. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-14(j).)

What are the postmark and “received by” deadlines for absentee/mail ballots?

National Scope: Thirty-four states have a deadline of Election Day for absentee/mail ballots to be received, while 16 states will accept a ballot received after Election Day but postmarked on or prior to that day. Allowing ballots to be received after Election Day can slow down the release of election results.

New Mexico: New Mexico requires that ballots be received by election officials prior to 7 p.m. on Election Day and does not accept postmarked ballots that arrive after Election Day. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-10(B).)

When can election officials begin to process and count absentee/mail ballots?

National Scope: At least 32 states permit election officials to begin processing absentee/mail ballots prior to the election. Eleven states permit officials to begin processing ballots on Election Day, but prior to the closing of the polls. Four states do not permit processing ballots until after the polls close.

New Mexico: New Mexico allows absentee ballots to be processed prior to Election Day, while not tallying the votes until the close of the polls. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-14.)

How are election results from absentee/mail ballots reported?

National Scope: States vary in how they report absentee/mail ballot results. Some reporting jurisdictions tabulate mail ballots in a single “at-large” precinct for the entire county. In other states, absentee/mail ballot results are reported by the voter’s precinct. The latter approach allows election results to be better understood at a granular level.

New Mexico: New Mexico requires that each county create an at-large absentee/mail ballot precinct through which absentee/mail voting results are reported by precinct. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-20.)

Vote-by-Mail (or Vote at Home or All-Mail) Elections

Only a small number of states currently have all elections conducted as all-mail elections. These states also offer some provisions for in-person voting. Those provisions vary, as does the authority granted to counties.

Does the state mail a ballot to all voters?

National Scope: Five states use only vote-by-mail elections in which the state mails all registered voters a ballot: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon Utah and Washington. Some in-person voting is available in each state as well.

New Mexico: New Mexico does not mail out ballots to all voters for all elections.

Can counties decide if they want to run elections entirely by mail?

National Scope: Three states allow counties to opt in to conducting elections by mail: California, Nebraska and North Dakota. Utah and Washington became vote-by-mail states by allowing counties to decide. Author’s note: California is considering shifting to mail voting statewide.

New Mexico: New Mexico does not allow counties this option.

For states that send ballots to all voters, what in-person voting options, such as vote centers, are available?

National Scope: The five states with vote-by-mail elections all require that some form of in-person voting options be made available at the county level. In Colorado, there are two weeks of in-person voting available at vote centers in every county. In Oregon, voters can come to a county election office to vote on Election Day. See Part I for details.

New Mexico: Not applicable.

Can small elections be conducted by mail?

National Scope: Ten states allow certain smaller elections, such as municipal, primary or special elections, to be conducted by mail.

New Mexico: All special elections are conducted by mail in New Mexico. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-24-3.)

Can small jurisdictions conduct elections by mail?

National Scope: Six states allow elections in certain smaller jurisdictions to be conducted by mail.

New Mexico: New Mexico allows counties to designate elections to be conducted by mail in a precinct with fewer than 100 voters and where the nearest polling place for an adjoining precinct is more than 20 miles driving distance from the precinct in question. (N.M. Stat. Ann. § 1-6-22.1.)

Emergency Powers

At least 45 states have statutes that deal with election emergencies in some way, although they vary greatly in their scope. The most common powers outlined in these statutes include delaying or rescheduling an election and relocating polling places. In many states, general emergency powers may apply as well.

Does the governor or secretary of state have the power to delay an election?

National Scope: At least 12 states have statutes allowing an election to be delayed or rescheduled by an executive branch officer.

New Mexico: New Mexico does not provide specific provisions granting the governor or secretary of state the power to delay an election.

Does the governor or secretary of state have the power to relocate an election?

National Scope: At least 24 states have statutes allowing polling places to be relocated in emergency situations.

New Mexico: New Mexico does not provide specific provisions granting the governor or secretary of state the power to relocate an election.

Resources and Acknowledgements

This report was supported in part by a grant from the Thornburg Foundation, a family foundation that makes grants in the areas of good government reform, early childhood education, agriculture reform and community funding.