POLITICS

Early Voting in New Mexico Makes Election Day Anti-Climatic

In New Mexico, the votes are in -- well, a lot of them, anyway.

More than 200,000 voters have already cast early in-person ballots. That's up 57 percent from the 2006 general election, the last time the state elected a governor, according to the secretary of state's office.

About 207,500 New Mexicans participated in early in-person voting, which ended Saturday. More than 132,500 people cast ballots through early in-person voting four years ago.

As Election Day neared, there was no letup in the flood of television advertising. All three of New Mexico's congressional seats are up for election, but outside groups have poured nearly $6.6 million into the races in the hotly contested 1st and 2nd Congressional districts, according to the Sunlight Foundation, a Washington-based watchdog group that tracks campaign finance.

In the race for governor, Republican Susanna Martínez and Democrat Diane Denish continued to make get-out-the-vote appeals as time ran out in the campaign.

Martínez, the district attorney in Doña Ana County, was planning to be in Las Cruces tonight when results come in.

Denish looked to President Barack Obama to help energize Democrats, particularly those who voted in 2008 for the first time or previously had been infrequent voters. Denish held a telephone town hall Tuesday evening, targeting more than 100,000 Democrats with calls that allowed them to hear Obama make a late pitch for them to cast ballots.

"We can win this race tomorrow and make Diane New Mexico's next governor, but it's only going to happen if Democrats vote in huge numbers," Obama said.

Martínez was leading the race, according to a poll published Sunday by the Albuquerque Journal, which showed the Republican siphoning off a quarter of Democratic voters.
Four years ago, 52 percent of registered New Mexicans voted. Turnout was 53 percent in the 2002 gubernatorial election year and 57 percent in 1998.

Turnout in midterm elections typically is lower than in presidential election years. About 70 percent of registered voters cast ballots in 2008.

Secretary of State Mary Herrera predicted turnout could reach 60 to 62 percent this year.
Brian Sanderoff, an Albuquerque pollster, agreed that turnout might reach 60 percent of the 1.1 million New Mexicans who are registered to vote.

However, Sanderoff cautioned that early voting isn't necessarily a barometer of total turnout in an election.

"Some of the increase in early voting will just be people who would have voted Election Day otherwise," Sanderoff said.

In 2006, early voting accounted for 23 percent of the total ballots cast in the general election and mail-in absentee ballots represented 17 percent. The remainder voted on Election Day.

About 99,200 absentee ballots were requested by New Mexico residents in this election but Herrera's office said it did not know how many of those have been returned by voters.
Bernalillo County, which includes the city of Albuquerque, accounted for the largest share of absentee ballots.

About 43,500 absentee ballots were mailed out in the state's largest county and 76 percent had been returned as of Monday, according to Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Of those returned, about 46 percent were Republicans and 44 percent were Democrats.
Voters can drop off absentee ballots on Election Day at their county clerk's office or their regular polling place.

Polls are open Tuesday from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.

Associated Press contributed to this report. AP writer Sue Major Holmes in Albuquerque reported on the story

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