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Commissioners canvass local election results

Chaves County Clerk Dave Kunko explains voter turnout and vote counting procedures Tuesday afternoon during the canvassing of the 2020 general elections at the Chaves County Administrative Center. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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County Clerk praises staff, poll workers

The county had 22,511 valid ballots submitted during early and Election Day voting, and the Chaves County Board of Commissioners voted 5-0 Tuesday afternoon to adopt the results.

The Board of Commissioners serves as the county canvassing board, and they met with Clerk’s Office staff a week after the 2020 general election concluded to review the results.

County Clerk Dave Kunko described a smooth process with only few problems. He praised hardworking staff and dedicated poll workers. But he reiterated that the turnout was not as high as he would have liked, with only 1,140 more votes cast this year as compared to the general election of 2016. Turnout this year was 64%.

Based on the first couple of weeks of early voting, when poll workers were seeing up to 850 voters a day, Kunko said he was thinking turnout was going to reach about 72%.

“We got so many of those voters — 82% came out before Election Day — that in my opinion, it took a lot of pressure off on Election Day,” he said.

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The Clerk’s Office’s data indicates that 3,719 valid absentee ballots were returned, 14,966 people voted in advance voting, and 3,752 people showed up at voting convenience centers on Nov. 3. Another 12 provisional ballots and 62 military and overseas votes were included in the voting total.

The county ended up disqualifying only five absentee ballots out of the 3,719 that had been returned due to people not properly signing the outer envelope or including the last four digits of their Social Security number, as required by state law. The Clerk’s Office did try to reach people to allow them to rectify the situation, Kunko said.

Fifty-two provisional ballots were rejected, with 43 determined to not be registered in Chaves County, seven having improperly filled out an outer envelope and two having already voted. Kunko and Bureau of Elections Chief Casey Higgins said the circumstances involving one person who voted by provisional ballot will be discussed with the New Mexico 5th Judicial District Attorney, as Clerk’s Office staff believe the person was intentionally attempting to vote twice, once by absentee ballot and once in person.

Due to some unproven contentions about national voting irregularities, Kunko and county commissioners sought to reassure people that Chaves County had what Commissioner Robert Corn called a “fair, transparent and publicly disclosed election.”

Kunko said “Sharpie” smudges are not a problem and that ballots are designed so that marks filled in on one side of a ballot will not affect the other side of the ballot even if the ink bleeds through. In answer to questions from Corn and Commissioner T. Calder Ezzell Jr., Kunko explained how absentee ballots are different from mail-out ballots, which some other states used.

Mail-out ballots go to all registered voters, even though county officials cannot know if all voters are still alive or still live in the county. Absentee ballots are only mailed to voters after they fill out an application requesting a ballot. To be accepted, absentee ballots have to be put into two envelopes, with the outer envelope having the signature and last four digits of the Social Security number, with that number able to be verified with the county’s database.

According to the county information, Republicans had a 75% turnout of their registered voters, with 17,582 casting ballots. Democrats had 62% turnout, with 9,679 voters. Libertarians had a 54% turnout, with 296 voters. Of those registered with other parties or unaffiliated, 41%, or 7,584, voted.

Kunko and his staff presented the Secretary of State tallies for the county votes for the various races. Those are posted at www.sos.state.nm.us. No outcomes of races have changed during the past week.

By a wide margin, the majority of county voters preferred Donald Trump and Mike Pence, who received 15,656 of county votes, to Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who received 6,381 of local votes. Biden has been named the winner of the presidential election by The Associated Press and some other news outlets.

The state of New Mexico is due to canvass all of the state’s results on Nov. 24.

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

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

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.