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Fuller talks about election law ‘challenges’

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Cindy Fuller, Chaves County chief deputy clerk, addresses a Republican group Wednesday about recent changes to state election law. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

An election official planning to run for Chaves County clerk in 2020 talked with a Republican gathering Wednesday about some recent changes in the state election law.

“I told myself on the way up here I was not going to present these ideas as negative, even though a lot of them we don’t like,” said Cindy Fuller, chief deputy county clerk, who previously served as Bureau of Elections chief for four years. “But they were passed during the last legislative session, so it is something we are learning how to deal with.”

House Bill 497 and Senate Bill 672 that passed the New Mexico Legislature in 2019 have presented several challenges to county clerks, she said while talking at a meeting of the Chaves County Federated Republican Women, held at the Elks Lodge.

She said one of those changes separated local elections from county, state and federal elections.

“Every November, you can count on having an election. Odd number will be local elections. Even number will be a general election,” she explained.

The 2019 local elections will involve nonpartisan elections for school boards, college boards, soil and water conservation districts, a watershed district and the municipalities of Hagerman and Lake Arthur. (Roswell has chosen to hold its election separately in March 2020, while Dexter does not have any seats up for election this year.)

Filing date for candidates is Tuesday. For write-in candidates, the day is Sept. 3. Early voting starts Oct. 8, with election day Nov. 5.

The changes Fuller expressed concerns with involved requirements for Social Security numbers on voter registration forms, same-day registration to take full effect in 2021 and new rules regarding absentee ballots.

She said that the new voter registration forms do not require full Social Security numbers. Instead, they ask for a state-issued identification number and the last four digits of the Social Security number. But state law still requires full numbers for voting.

“Now the Secretary of State office has put the responsibility on the clerk’s office to find out what someone’s Social Security number is. How that is going to happen, we still don’t know,” she said. “If someone comes to vote and we don’t know their full Social Security number, we have to let them vote provisionally. If they can bring us their full Social Security number before we canvas the election, we have to count their vote.”

She added that New Mexico is one of only six states that still requires complete Social Security numbers for voting and hopes that remains the case.

Senate Bill 672 that introduced same-day registration does not take full effect this year. Instead, for 2019 and 2020, registration can occur until the Saturday before the election.

“If you are familiar with that at all, previously voter registration has closed 28 days before election,” she said. “That’s a long time, I would agree, but to go from 28 days to same day is pretty extreme in itself.”

She said her chief concern is for 2021, when registration can occur on election day at all polling sites.

“We don’t know how that is going to work,” she said. “I can tell you that most of the county clerks in the state do not want same-day registration.”

The bill also removed the requirement that photo identification has an address that matches the voter registration records.

The other concern she voiced concerned a change with absentee balloting.

“If you call into the office and you request an absentee ballot and you come into the office the next day while early voting is going on and we look in our system and we don’t show that we received a ballot back from you, you get to vote,” she said.

She added that she thinks the Chaves County voting systems will prevent double-voting, but that she still is opposed to that procedure.

Some discussion at the meeting also occurred regarding preparations for the 2020 general elections, with plans made to increase the number of registered Republican voters in the county and to visit voters precinct by precinct. State Rep. Phelps Anderson (District 66), who did not expect to be at the meeting, left a letter describing the “remarkable” differences that will exist between President Donald Trump and the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee. He encouraged volunteer recruitment and told Republicans to “brace yourself for a rough and tumble 2020 election cycle.”