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County commissioners approve primary results

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Lisa Dunlap Photo Dick Taylor will be a new Chaves County commissioner, having won the Republican primary and facing no general election opponent. He listens Tuesday to the canvassing of the results along with other successful candidates, Cindy Fuller, to be the Chaves County clerk, and Treasurer Charlotte Andrade.

An “unprecedented” primary election has been certified locally, and Chaves County commissioners expressed both appreciation for how smoothly it went and the turnout, as well as consternation about the potential cost to the county due to the high number of absentee ballots.

The Board of Commissioners serves as the official canvassing body for county elections. On Tuesday, it voted 5-0 to approve the results of the primary, which concluded June 2 with in-person voting but also involved early voting and absentee voting that started May 5. The results will now be reviewed by the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Office.

With only 101 provisional ballots — or those that are accepted on a preliminary basis until they can be verified as valid — no outcomes of races in the county changed from those previously announced.

The county saw incumbents and people with prior experience returned to office because they face no general election opponents. This included County Treasurer Charlotte Andrade; Commissioners Jeff Bilberry and T. Calder Ezzell Jr., as well as Dick Taylor, who served on the board for eight years until 2013; and Cindy Fuller, deputy chief clerk, who won her bid for clerk. The election also involved major party candidates for many other federal, state and regional offices.

Due to a recent change in state law, County Clerk Dave Kunko and his staff were able to validate the provisional ballots, finding that 89 met the criteria of being properly signed and in the appropriate envelope and cast by a person registered for the party in which they voted. Previously, the Canvassing Board, or commissioner board, had to determine the validity of each provisional ballot.

Kunko said he was pleased with participation, especially for his party.

“I am really proud of the fact that — and it sounds sad that I am proud of it — but 48% of Republicans showed up at the primary,” Kunko said. “As Commissioner (Robert) Corn and most of you know, our primaries, we don’t usually get primaries even close to that.”

Overall, turnout was 41%, with 10,777 voters out of the 26,236 eligible.

“For Chaves County primaries, that is the best I have ever seen,” Kunko said about countywide turnout.

The 7,894 Republicans who cast ballots represented 73% of all county primary voters. For Democrats, 2,840 voted out of 9,612 registered (30%), and they represented 26% of total voters. For Libertarians, 15% participated, or 43 out of 280 registered, and they represented 1% of all voters.

Even though absentee ballots boosted participation — representing 4,357, or 40.4%, of the total votes — several people expressed upset about them. Absentee ballot applications were mailed out to registered voters of the three largest parties this year by the New Mexico Secretary of State due to concerns over the COVID-19 health emergency and in-person voting.

Commissioner Dara Dana called absentee voting “a failed experiment” because of the cost involved and the confusion for some larger counties where the absentee ballot count was heavy. A Chaves County precinct judge also said that the number of people who received absentee ballots but came to a voting center on Tuesday anyway wanting to vote caused problems at her site.

Kunko said absentee ballots also could mean a significantly more expensive primary for the county, unless the Secretary of State’s Office reimburses it for the costs of mailing the ballots and the increased costs of paying for more hours for the absentee board to process them.

According to Chief Deputy Clerk Fuller, this primary cost about $10,000 more than the one in 2016, or about $40,000 compared to $30,000.

In 2016, the county issued 288 ballots, of which 245 were returned by voters. This year, the county issued 5,327 ballots, with 4,357 returned.

Kunko also said that, in the future, the clerk’s office needs the ability to verify the signatures on absentee ballots. Otherwise, he said, there is no way to know for certain if the ballots have been filled out by the registered voters.

To keep up with coverage of this and other 2020 elections of local and regional interest, go to rdrnews.com/category/news/elections/.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.