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County decides against ballot drop boxes

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Chaves County won’t have drop-off ballot boxes this year, but voters can use the Clerk’s Office drive-up window. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Elections bureau chief says security is a consideration

Chaves County does not intend to set up any drop-off absentee ballot boxes, the head of the local elections bureau has said.

Casey Higgins, bureau of elections chief for Chaves County, said Friday that the county instead will let voters use the Clerk’s Office drive-up window at the Chaves County Administrative Center, 1 St. Mary’s Place.

Voters also can drop ballots off at any polling location, and Higgins said a Clerk’s Office employee will pick them up immediately.

Security was one of the reasons Higgins gave for the county’s decision not to use the drop boxes that state election officials have recommended be made available.

“Ballot security is very important to us, and with this new process being implemented so quickly, we are uncomfortable with how the security of the ballot will be maintained,” she said. “With proper procedures, we see ballot drop-boxes happening in Chaves County in the future.”

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She also said that timing and costs were factors as well.

Higgins said that when county clerks were first notified on Aug. 24 about the availability of the drop boxes, clerks were informed that they would have to pay $2,200 per box. Chaves County had not budgeted for that, she said.

She added that later the New Mexico Secretary of State office “provided additional guidance, raising the cost to $3,100 per box and stated they would now cover this cost. With that said, the deadline had already past for us to order.”

New Mexico has allowed secured drop-off ballot boxes since 2019, and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced Monday that the state would use $6 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) funding to reimburse counties for the installation of drop boxes in their areas.

State officials are encouraging absentee voting during the coronavirus crisis. On Sept. 3, New Mexico Secretary of Health Kathy Kunkel issued a new public health order that limits the number of people in polling locations to 25% of building capacity or to no more than two voters at mobile polling locations. It also requires social distancing of at least 6 feet between people inside and outside the polling places.

The same order also said that the safest way to vote is by mail and stated “all eligible New Mexicans are advised to apply for absentee ballots and to cast their ballots by mail.”

The drop boxes were seen as a way to ensure voters that their absentee ballots would be received in time. In Chaves County, ballots have to be received by the Chaves County Clerk’s Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 3.

Higgins and Chief Deputy Clerk Cindy Fuller have said they encourage people to use whichever means they are comfortable with, whether absentee ballot, in-person early voting or voting at one of the 11 polling locations on Election Day.

Mailing ballots remains an option, with local election officials advising voters to allow at least a week for delivery. Ballots will begin to be mailed Oct. 6, which is also when early voting starts in Chaves County.

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