Debates are heating up. Political signs are sprouting in yards all over New Mexico. Campaign ads are proliferating like partisan bunnies on our TV screens. At this point, anyone with the slightest interest in politics knows New Mexico is on the cusp of an election that could become the most exciting our state has witnessed in decades.
Although unlikely, it’s statistically possible that New Mexico will decide the presidential race. Whatever happens, the New Mexico battle between McCain and Obama is almost certain to be a tight one. In 2000 and 2004, the presidential race margin in New Mexico was the closest in the nation. Several down-ticket races are just as exciting with a slew of hotly contested federal and state legislative fights to be decided on Nov. 4.
With so much on the line, it’s more important than ever for voters to have accurate information. That’s why Common Cause New Mexico, the organization I head, has been working for the past six months with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, numerous other nonpartisan groups and a broad network of New Mexico attorneys to create an election protection program for the state. We’re recruiting lawyers, law students and other volunteers to monitor the general election with the goal of helping voters address election problems quickly and with minimal hassle.
Central to this project are two voter hotlines: (866) OUR-VOTE (English) and (888) VE-Y-VOTA (Spanish). Voters with any questions whatsoever can call these hotlines and get the answers they need from a live attorney with quick access to New Mexico election information. Your hotline questions can be about anything under the electoral sun, from queries about your assigned polling location to how to request a provisional ballot. Particularly tricky problems will be forwarded to our team in New Mexico and addressed by pro bono lawyers and other volunteers on the ground.
Here’s a bit of basic information to get you started. The most important thing to know is that if you aren’t already registered, you need to do it now. Your last chance is Tuesday, Oct. 7. After that you’re out of luck, buddy, and no amount of whining is going to get you a ballot come Election Day. The easiest way to register is to contact your county clerk or log onto the New Mexico Secretary of State’s website at www.sos.state.nm.us and click on the “voter registration form” box in the right column.
Just print out the form and drop it in the mail. Keep in mind, however, that if you’re registering by mail for the first time, when you get to the polls you’ll need to show a current photo ID or a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, or other government document that has your name and address.
In New Mexico, anyone who wants one can get an absentee ballot. These will be available beginning Oct. 7. In Bernalillo County, starting Oct. 7, you can also go to the County Clerk’s Annex Building at 620 Lomas NW and vote in person. Starting on Oct. 18, at least 15 additional early in-person voting locations will be opened throughout the county.
Historic enthusiasm for this election means lines might be long on Nov. 4. Don’t put yourself through that. Get it done early. More information can be found at bernco.gov/clerk. If you live in another county, contact your clerk and ask them where and how to vote early.
Why is it so important to vote early? Unfortunately, New Mexico has suffered numerous election debacles in recent years. Much of this embarrassment can be blamed on our swing-state status. Close elections tend to magnify election administration problems by a thousand, turning small bureaucratic errors into enormous electoral nightmares. Voting early means you’re much more likely to avoid those potential nightmares and get your vote counted.
As recent history has proven, you would have to be completely disconnected from reality to believe election results don’t matter in the United States of America. There’s a reason why voting is called a “civic duty.” Democrat or Republican, Libertarian, Green, or Independent, we all want to ensure the general election is fair and accurate. You can get more information about Count Every Vote New Mexico and plenty of additional voting information at counteveryvotenm.org.