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County voting center locations reduced for upcoming elections

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“Now we feel that we have a better understanding of the needs of the county and chose to reduce the number of polling locations,” says Chaves County Clerk Dave Kunko, shown during an April 25 meeting. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Commissioners approve 11 voting sites, new precincts

Chaves County will have three fewer voting locations for upcoming local and general elections, as confirmed by a recent vote of the Board of Commissioners. That continues a trend of reducing the number of locations in the county, which started in 2016.

Elected officials also approved forming eight additional precincts, as a new state law requires the splitting of precincts in certain circumstances.

Chaves County commissioners unanimously voted for the 11 voting centers during their June 27 meeting.

Two precincts — Precinct 44 near the Elida area in the northeastern part of the county and Precinct 104 near Dunken in the southern-boothill portion of the county — will receive mail-in ballots only because they have fewer than 100 registered voters. But people in those precincts can opt to vote at one of the voting centers instead.

Dave Kunko, Chaves County clerk, said the recommendations to the board regarding the polling locations and additional precincts were made after discussions among his Bureau of Elections staff and him, Commissioners Robert Corn and Jeff Bilberry; Bill Williams, director of public service; and County Manager Stanton Riggs.

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“We are actually reducing it (voting centers) from (14) to 11,” he told commissioners. “In 2018, we had 11 inside the city of Roswell area — I say the city of Roswell area because it does include East Grand Plains — and then we had three additional polling places in the valley. So we are proposing 11 polling places at this time.”

The new voting locations will be in effect for the local elections in 2019 and 2021 and the primary and general elections of 2020. Eight of the voting centers will be located in the city of Roswell and East Grand Plains, according to county documents, with one in Dexter, one in Hagerman and one in Lake Arthur.

Early voting locations will be the Roswell Mall, the Chaves County Administrative Center and the Hagerman JOY Center.

About three years ago, when there were about 50 precincts, the county ran polling locations at each of the precincts. In 2016, the county introduced 11 voting convenience centers, where up to 10 precincts can vote at one site, and four regular precinct-specific polling locations.

In 2018, it reduced the number of voting sites to 14. In 2019, the 11 voting convenience centers will be in effect, with voters in the county able to use any of the sites. Exact locations are available from the clerk’s office and will be published on the county’s website and by local news media as election dates approach.

Kunko said after the meeting that, while each voting center costs between $4,000 to $6,000 to equip and staff, costs were not the primary driver of the decision.

“We did not feel that many of the locations were necessary,” he said. “We purposely began Voting Convenience Centers (VCCs) with too many locations because you never want to have fewer locations than you need. Now we feel that we have a better understanding of the needs of the county and chose to reduce the number of polling locations.”

The addition of new precincts, which now gives the county 63 precincts, are a result of the passage of state House Bill 407 during the 2019 New Mexico Legislative session.

Among other things, the bill requires the splitting of precincts where 750 or more voters have cast ballots during the two most recent general elections or where the population is more than 2,500, as determined by the most recent decennial U.S. Census Bureau count (or 2010, in this case).

“We were, from the signage of that bill until now, out of compliance, as were every other county, because we could not meet those thresholds,” Kunko told commissioners.

Kunko indicated the county used both the voting records and the 2010 Census numbers to decide to split eight of its precincts to create 16 precincts. Five of the eight were divided because they had more than 750 voters during general elections, he said.

Kunko indicated the county might have to make additional changes to precincts after the 2020 Census results become available.

He and Commissioner Corn said the legislators’ rationale for creating smaller precincts is to make it easier for possible redistricting during a future legislative session.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, New Mexico is one of 14 states to allow voting convenience centers. The advantages are convenience, possible increased turnout and decreased costs, the group says, but disadvantages could include voter confusion about when and where to vote and technological complexities to verify voter information and provide correct ballots.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.