- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - New Mexico’s Supreme Court said Wednesday it will referee a dispute over how to proceed with the state’s June 2 primary election without in-person voting to minimize public exposure to the coronavirus.

Local election officials from most counties have petitioned the court to suspend primary balloting at traditional precincts and early voting centers and implement mail-in-only balloting procedures currently reserved for special elections such as local bond initiative, with some in-person assistance for voters. Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver supports the approach as way to “make it easy for every eligible voter to participate.”

The Republican Party, affiliated state legislators and a small share of county clerks would prefer that the election follow absentee-voting procedures in which currently registered voters submit an application for a ballot that can be mailed or hand-delivered. They also say lawmakers should devise a solution by convening a special or extraordinary session of the Legislature.

State GOP Chairman Steve Pearce said the party is concerned about the state’s ability to properly track and monitor mail-in ballots.

New Mexico’s dispute over balloting procedures has erupted as a host of states rush to adopt alternatives to in-person voting or postpone election dates amid the national public health emergency. Among health concerns is the safety of poll workers, who tend to be older and more vulnerable to severe effects of COVID-19.

The Supreme Court is asking for written suggestions from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the Legislature as whole, the League of Women Voters and the Democratic and Libertarian parties.

The majority of county clerks petitioned the New Mexico Supreme Court to institute mail-in voting procedures that would issue ballots more broadly to addresses where election-related mail has not been returned and that are not on an inactive voter list.

Republican legislators say a special or extraordinary session of the Democrat-led Legislature should be convened to ensure adequate deliberation and negotiate a solution. The original petition from clerks argues it is illegal for the Legislature to meet by teleconference, and it is too dangerous for the Legislature to convene in person as the virus spreads.

New Mexico voters can request an absentee ballot for any reason, and about one in four votes in the 2018 general election was cast by absentee ballot.

Every state already allows some form of voting by mail, but only six Western states are set up to allow all-mail voting in every county, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Political parties are choosing nominees to compete in an open congressional race in northern New Mexico and to succeed U.S. Sen. Tom Udall as he retires. The entire Legislature is up for re-election.

Two Supreme Court justices are up for election in November and have recused themselves. Retired Justices Richard Bosson and Edward Chavez will sit in for Justices Shannon Bacon and David Thomson.

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