NM Supreme Court Sides With GOP In Fight With Clerks Over COVID-19 Mail-In Voting

UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 11: Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico Secretary of State, participates in a discussion on elections at the Bipartisan Policy Center on October 11, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - OCTOBER 11: Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico Secretary of State, participates in a discussion on elections at the Bipartisan Policy Center on October 11, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
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April 15, 2020 11:12 a.m.

The New Mexico Supreme Court took the state GOP’s side Monday in a dispute with New Mexico election officials over how broadly to expand mail-in voting for the state’s upcoming elections due to the pandemic.

The court issued its order after a two-hour-plus hearing, conducted over Zoom, the Las Cruces Sun News reported

Twenty-seven local clerks — with the backing of New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver (D) —  had sought the court’s permission to essentially transform New Mexico’s June 2 election into an entirely mail-in election (though in-person voting would be available to those who needed it).

Their lawyers told the court on Monday, according to Las Cruces Sun News, that the overhaul could not be done legislatively because calling a special session would require under law that legislators physically gather. They said they were merely asking the court to interpret existing election code rather than change the law, which already allows for special elections to be conducted via mail.

Their request was initially filed unopposed, but the New Mexico Republican party, with the support of a voter fraud alarmist group, filed a lawsuit to block the request. The GOP claims that mail-in voting system the Democratic officials were seeking to implement  — in which every registered voter receives a ballot in the mail — was susceptible to fraud.

The Republicans instead backed a system in line with New Mexico’s current absentee voting practices, where voters must apply for mail-in ballots before the ballots are sent  to them. The court backed the approach, according to Las Cruces Sun News, while adding that it would order clerks to mail the ballot applications to all voters.

The court fight was one of several playing out across the country as voter advocates and election officials grapple with how to protect voters in the pandemic. Only a handful of states already have the infrastructure in place to smoothly administer elections largely done by mail.

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