County Enacts Strict Precautions For Voters Amid Pandemic

While submitting an absentee ballot is encouraged, residents are able to vote in person for the June 2, Primary Election. Voting is underway at the Municipal Building, 1000 Central Ave. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com

Social Distancing is in place as voters cast ballots Tuesday at the Municipal Building. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com

By KIRSTEN LASKEY
Los Alamos Daily Post
kirsten@ladailypost.com

The effects of the coronavirus can be felt and seen everywhere. Locally, one of the more recent areas impacted by the effects of the pandemic is voting.

Numerous restrictions and guidelines have been issued regarding in-person voting for the June 2 Primary Election. Los Alamos County Clerk Naomi Maestas told the Los Alamos Daily Post that local residents have responded positively to these changes with many choosing to vote by mail.

Maestas reported that as of Monday, County Clerk staff has received some 1,300 absentee ballot applications.

“We processed about 2,500 absentee applications last week and have mailed out those ballots,” Maesta said. “We’re definitely seeing a surge in these numbers … we are happy to see an increase in these vote from home efforts.”

In fact, Maestas said that of the 4,516 ballots cast in the 2016 presidential primary election, only 154 were absentee by mail. Nearly 4,000 absentee by mail ballot applications have been received so far this year.

This stems from the public health order the New Mexico Department of Health issued April 30. In the order, the health department made some provisions pertaining to the election code and polling places, Maestas said, adding it was mandated that all polling locations be permitted to operate on days and times provided in the election code from early voting through election day.

However, the public health order requires no more than four voters be allowed into a polling location at a time or only 20 percent of the maximum occupancy be permitted into the location.

Additionally, all polling locations must adhere to social distancing rules of individuals standing six feet apart. Polling places also must follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines for sanitizing surfaces, writing implements and hand washing.

Maestas explained that an additional safeguard was added to these requirements for residents who choose to vote in person. They receive a popsicle stick to sign their name on the signature pad then it’s discarded.

Los Alamos County Council also adopted a resolution, which collapsed two of the voting centers in the upcoming election. Naomi said the centers were the Betty Ehart Senior Center and UNM-LA. The voting centers were collapsed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the number of election and facility workers needed, she said.

As a result, the election centers that will open June 2 are Los Alamos County Golf Course, Municipal Building and White Rock Town Hall.

Maestas asks voters for their patience when voting at these locations as there may be lines due to the requirements established in the public health order and voters will need to practice social distancing. She added that voters are encouraged to check the County Clerk’s website for election results June 2 night rather than congregating at the Municipal Building.

So far, enforcing the number of people allowed into local polling locations as well as social distancing haven’t been an issue because so many decided not to vote in person, she said.

“We are very grateful that our voters are being responsible and voting from home,” Maestas said.

Elections Manager Gloria Maestas agreed.

“Early voting is not as busy, which is good,” she said. “Those who have shown up to vote have respected social distancing … everyone has been very understanding of the process. Regarding absentee voting by mail, we are all pretty proud of Los Alamos … they have all taken the pandemic to heart and have shown concern for their neighbors by voting absentee.”

Clerk Maestas credits the increase of mail-in ballots to “the efforts made by our staff. We circulated  a news release and we also mailed a letter to every voter in Los Alamos, encouraging them for their safety and that of their neighbors to vote from home. I think that attributed greatly to this endeavor.”

Clerk Maesta said her office also increased its outreach efforts. They increased advertising, appeared on  broadcast stations and are running radio ads to spread the vote-from-home message.

“We have definitely increased efforts to mitigate the spread of this virus, and to ensure voters have a safe way to make their voice heard this election,” she said. “I want to emphasize to our voters during this health emergency … our staff is taking every precaution to also make sure in-person voting is safe and I want every voter to cast their vote in a manner that they are comfortable with,” she said. “Obviously voting is going to look different this cycle but we are taking every precaution to make sure voting is conducted in a fair, ethical and transparent manner.”

There are several ways voters can obtain an absentee ballot, the easiest being to visit here and apply. Alternately, visit the Clerk’s website at here to fill out the application; however, the form will need to be printed and mailed back to clerk’s office.

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is May 28 and ballots are due by 7 p.m. June 2 at the Clerk’s office. For voters who need to physically submit their ballots or applications, there is a drop box outside the Clerk’s office in the Municipal Building, 1000 Central Ave. Postage is paid for the absentee ballot application and the ballot.

For more information, call the Clerk’s office at 505.662.8010.

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