- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 11, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Balloting in presidential and general elections began Tuesday in New Mexico, as a steady stream of voters flowed through county clerk offices to cast absentee ballots in person.

Many voters said they came out early to vote out of a heightened sense of concern and anxiety over the presidential election.

“I’ve never been so fearful and upset about anything,” said Debby Samuels, 65, of Santa Fe, a retired special education teacher and supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. “I’m concerned that people are so discouraged and blown away by what’s going on that they won’t even bother.”

About 50 people waited to vote in a line that wound out the door at the Bernalillo County Clerk’s Annex - the only spot in New Mexico’s largest city where people could directly cast a vote. At the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office in the state capital, more than 500 people cast ballots by 1 p.m. Absentee voting also began by mail.

Registered Republican Larry Langway, 71, of Santa Fe, said he would not vote for GOP nominee Donald Trump - or any other presidential candidate.

“I’m not satisfied with anybody,” said Langway, a retired postmaster who was focused instead on local district attorney and legislative races.

Local candidates and political committees were filing campaign finance disclosure statements Tuesday before a midnight deadline.

New Mexico has been a significant bellwether in presidential elections since statehood, backing the winning candidate in all but two elections, in 1976 and 2000.

Pollsters have been rushing to keep up with the state’s shifting political allegiances this year. New Mexico was an early flashpoint for Republican reservations about Trump. GOP Gov. Susana Martinez announced last week that she would not support Trump after deferring an endorsement decision for months.

Meanwhile, support runs relatively high in New Mexico for the state’s former two-time governor, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson.

In statewide and local elections, Democrats are challenging Republican control of the New Mexico House of Representatives and the Secretary of State’s Office.

Republicans won a House majority in 2014 for the first time in 60 years. Democrats control the Senate, 24-18, where all seats are up for election in November. Republicans hope to make inroads.

Campaign finance disclosure reports filed on Tuesday with state regulators showed the Washington D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee pouring money into the New Mexico political arena, including a $100,000 contribution to the Albuquerque-based GOP committee Advance New Mexico Now.

Democrat-affiliated committee NM Together, meanwhile, received $50,000 from the National Education Association teachers union and spent slightly more on political research, consulting, polling and legal services during a four-week reporting period that ended Oct. 3.

Advance New Mexico Now, which currently holds funds of about $1.1 million, has sponsored recent radio ads promoting a slate of stricter criminal sentencing proposals backed by the Republican Gov. Susana Martinez and allied lawmakers during a weeklong special legislative session. The Senate adjourned last week without hearing the measures, as lawmakers approved legislation to address a major state budget deficit.

New Mexico voters also are choosing the state’s top elections and campaign finance oversight official.

Republican state Rep. Nora Espinoza and Democratic Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver are running for secretary of state to fill the remainder of a term vacated by Dianna Duran, a Republican who resigned and served a month in prison on felony convictions of embezzlement and money laundering. An interim secretary of state appointed by the governor, Brad Winter, is not running.

Toulouse Oliver reported raised almost $102,000 in four weeks, and she held a campaign balance of about $188,000. Major donations of $5,000 or more came from out-of-state political committees associated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the Democratic Association of Secretaries of State.

Espinoza added nearly $40,000 in contributions to a campaign war chest totaling $265,000 - and spent less than $5,200 on radio ads, public opinion surveys and other expenses. Major contributions came from the Republican State Leadership Committee and Oklahoma City-based Devon Energy Production.

Well over half of New Mexico voters cast ballots before election day in the past two presidential elections. Starting on Oct. 22, New Mexico expands early voting opportunities beyond county clerk offices to dozens of early voting centers spread across most counties in the state. The deadline for registration was Tuesday.


Associated Press Writer Mary Hudetz in Albuquerque contributed to this report.

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