ASSUMING YOU ARE NOT GOING TO BE DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN AN ELECTION IN WHICH YOU ARE A CANDIDATE, WHAT MEASURES WOULD YOU TAKE TO ENSURE A SMOOTH AND SECURE ELECTION THIS NOVEMBER?
Amanda López Askin– Doña Ana County, through ordinance, restricts a current elected official or employee from participating in the administration of election when the official or employee is running for office in a contested race. I have worked closely with my Chief Deputy, Lindsey Bachman, and the rest of the staff to prepare for the 2020 elections. -Since I have been in office, I have worked diligently to make sure our office is adequately staffed. I have been unapologetic in my focus in ensuring the Clerk’s office is staffed and am proud to report that we have a full staff ready to administer elections in DAC. -The more access we offer our community to the consistent work of our office, the more our community knows how fair, impartial, and well our elections are administered. Our new Communications Coordinator offers this through print, digital, and social media.
-Constant and ongoing staff training of policies/procedures on the administration of an election as well as building supportive relationships with a wide-variety of clerks across the state. This reinforces best practices and builds consistency state-wide, which is a benefit to all New Mexicans. -Community education on elections has been helpful for me to build relationships in every part of Doña Ana County. This has supported our work on targeted election official recruitment, as election officials are literally the front line of our elections, spread across 40 locations throughout Doña Ana County.
Andrew J Ostic–
A. Identify whether the public notice to the voters concerning appointment of polling places and Election Officials assigned to them have been published clearly and bilingually (English/Spanish) within the required time frames specified and that any changes to these are performed solely as prescribed by established election code.
B. Inspect polling places that can clearly be identified to voters by signage visible from access roads with no physical hindrance present with adequate availability of parking.
C. Verify to ensure all Election Officials and standbys were properly appointed and certified as being trained on their duties and responsibilities in the conduct of the election.
D. Verify that the Election Officials have proper written instruction on processing each absentee ballots and that information is communicated to all party officials and candidates prior to the election.
E. Verify that Election Officials understand the right of provisional ballots for voters who are not found on the voter rolls when they present to vote.
F. Obtain an up-to-date and accurate listing of all registered voters who are eligible to vote in election prior to early voting.
G. Verify all sample ballots are distributed for the election show only those candidates and questions eligible to appear on the ballot for each precinct.
WHAT CHANGES TO THE NEW MEXICO ELECTION CODE WOULD YOU FAVOR – AND WHY?
Amanda López Askin– House Bill 229, also known as the 2020 Cleanup Bill, offered important measures that would make elections in New Mexico more secure and accessible. The bill focused on clarification on identification requirements for same-day voter registration, as well as other necessary administration supports for absentee ballots, precinct changes, and other items. Overall, what HB 229 did was offer minor updates, changes, and needed clarifications to the current election code.
-Although no major changes were included, it would have assisted all of the county clerks across the state in our administration of the election. I am hopeful this bill will move forward in the upcoming session. -An additional change that I think would make our elections more accessible and supportive of voters, would be to allow registered voters to obtain their absentee ballot every election by applying to be on a permanent absentee list, should they choose to do so. -Currently, registered voters are required to request an absentee ballot via application every election. With absentee being the focus recently because of the COVID-19 virus, I have heard from countless voters, mostly elderly, who find having to apply every single election to be onerous and a burden. This change would support what is already a robustly secure process and would make voting easier and more user-friendly.
Andrew J Ostic– Change the Election Official qualifications as follows:
- Appointment of Presiding Judge and Judges: Current statute requires appointment to these positions be restricted to only political party members registered for 2 years with the political party. If they have not been registered for 2 years, they may only serve as election clerk. I would support changing this requirement to allow for replacing an appointed presiding judge or judge who is unable to serve with someone who is currently registered as a voter with the same party, who has already attended an approved election official training.
- Training: Allow for provision of additional election official training sessions up to the Monday before Election Day. This will ensure that all Election Officials are properly trained.
IF, AS MANY HAVE SUGGESTED, THE NOVEMBER ELECTION WILL RELY HEAVILY ON ABSENTEE BALLOTS, DO YOU THINK THE CLERK’S OFFICE IS ADEQUATELY PREPARED – AND WHY?
Amanda López Askin– Since I have been in office, several important changes and supports have been implemented in our Clerk’s Office that will assist in support a smooth absentee process. -One that will be specifically very helpful is the statute connected to the timetable of beginning to qualify absentee ballots. Prior to the passage of HB 407 in 2019, election administrators could not begin the qualification process until 5 days before election day. HB 407 expanded the timetable for counties that receive more than 10,000 absentee ballot applications. Should that happen, the Absentee Precinct Board is able to begin qualifying those envelopes 14 days prior to election day. -Additionally, expanding our Absentee Precinct Board has been vital. Contrary to what some believe, the Clerk’s Office staff does not qualify or process absentee ballots. That is the responsibility of vital community members, who as election officials, qualify and process absentee ballots. -Having checks and balances in place that support consistent chains-of-custody, with several layers of accountability support an absentee ballot processing that reflects not only statute, but also best practices.
Andrew J Ostic– As many have suggested, the November election will rely heavily on absentee ballots. I agree. As for whether I believe that the Clerk’s Office is adequately prepared for the challenges to the absentee ballot will be determined during a complete election cycle from the publication of the proclamation, appointment and training of Election Officials, opening of the polls, closing of the polls, and canvassing of the election. The ability of the County Clerk to ensure proper training and instruction to 250 Election Officials for the Primary and General Elections, forty of those Election Officials serving as Early and Absentee Voting Election Officials is paramount to success. By statute, the last day to mail an absentee ballot is on Friday before Election Day but there is no way to determine whether adequate and trained Election Officials will be available.
SOME PEOPLE HAVE SAID THAT THE NOVEMBER ELECTION SHOULD BE ENTIRELY MAIL IN BALLOTS. IS THIS POSSIBLE – WHY OR WHY NOT?
Amanda López Askin– No voter should have to choose between exercising their Constitutional right to vote and the health and wellness of not only themselves, but their loved ones. As County Clerk, my responsibility is to administer an election set forth in statute. Should the Election Code change, our office will be able to administer an all-mail election in November.
-Our office has been well prepared for a larger than normal absentee turnout, and I am confident in our staff and election officials and our capacity to administer an all-mail election.
Andrew J Ostic– An all-mail ballot Election would be possible. There may be several challenges as follows:
A: An absentee ballot may have be mailed to the wrong address and returned because the voter moved without updating.
B: Large amounts of undeliverable ballots may occur. Undeliverable ballots must be stored and safeguarded.
C. If a voter did not receive a ballot then that voter must be allowed to vote on a replacement ballot. This location must be published.
D. Adequate number of voting tabulators must be available to tabulate ballots as soon as the polls are closed.
E. Same day voter registration and provisional ballots must be offered.
These locations must be published.
IN THE PAST MANY POLL WORKERS HAVE BEEN OLDER. WILL YOU BE ABLE TO RECRUIT AND TRAIN SUFFICIENT POLL WORKERS WITHOUT HAVING TO RELY ON THIS VULNERABLE GROUP?
Amanda López Askin– As I respond to this question, we are currently awaiting a decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court that will address whether an all-mail election is possible for June’s Primary Election. This decision will likely be made on April 14th.
In preparation for this, our office has been preparing two potential administrative routes for the June Primary. The first is the administration of an election that is status quo – minus one important change on our behalf – which would be a concentrated and aggressive campaign to encourage eligible voters to utilize absentee ballots. -I am concerned for those that are in what the Center for Disease Control categorize as vulnerable, not only with age, but also with potentially unknown conditions that would also place them in the vulnerable category. -Should we have to administer our election in-person, we will follow all of the best practices connected to mitigating all of the virus risks that we are able to. We will provide important and necessary safeguards that they would need, as well as work with our vendors to coordinate efficiency and reducing wait time, spatial concerns, as well as potential areas of contamination. All of our election official will be armed with comprehensive information about the risks.
-NM Clerks, as well as the Secretary of State’s Office, are having ongoing and detailed conversations about ways we can both staff our elections and be compliant with our Governor’s directives.
Andrew J Ostic– In a Primary and General Election, there is an estimated 80-100 Election Officials that are retired or semi-retired. This group is the most reliable on Election Day. If this group decides not to serve Election Day, there will be a lack of Election experience at the polls.
A. Appoint a standby group of 100 Election Officials and pay them to attend Election trainings. This will produce better standby attendance.
B. Additional Election trainings must be offered to accommodate those willing to serve. C. Election Officials who will serve as Judges and Clerks may be scheduled into 2 work shifts on Election Day.