County sees high local turnout in primary
Table set for hotly contested general election
By Mike Cook
Las Cruces Bulletin
Turnout for the June 7 primary election in Doña Ana County was 23 percent of total registered voters (30 percent of qualified voters), Chief Deputy County Clerk Scott Krahling said.
That compares to 10 percent of registered voters who voted in the 2014 primary and 12 percent who voted in the 2012 primary, he said.
All told, 24,247 people voted in this year’s primary, including 16,760 Democrats and 7,487 Republicans. That includes 8,658 early voters, of which 6,097 were Democrats and 2,561 were Republicans.
Early voting, Krahling said “is gaining popularity.” It increased about 6 percent from 2012 to 2014 and by another 4 percent between 2014 and 2016, he said. Absentee voting has increased by almost 1 percent, he said. Voting on Election Day declined by about 11 percent between 2012 and 2016, Krahling said. “Turnout was better than in other recent years, as it’s also been in other states, largely because of Democratic and Republican presidential primaries that are inspiring new and infrequent voters to head to the polls,” said Heath Haussamen, editor and publisher of the Las Cruces- based news organization NMPolitics.net. “The high engagement in this year’s elections is encouraging and something I hope continues into the future,” he said.
“That’s what happens when you have a presidential primary that matters,” said Albuquerque pollster Bruce Donisthorpe. “Turnout goes through the roof. People vote in presidential elections. They vote when their vote matters,” said Donisthorpe, who has polled many local county and legislative races in the past eight years.
“Our goal is that everyone votes who is qualified, so while I am pleased that so many people voted, I think we have a long way to go to encourage more people to participate in exercising their right to vote,” Krahling said.
New Mexico has a closed primary, which means only Democrats can vote in the Democratic primary and only Republicans can vote in the Republican Primary. All registered voters are eligible to vote in the Nov. 8 general election.
With regard to county commission races that saw incumbent Democrats Wayne Hancock and Dr. David Garcia lose their primaries, Haussamen said, “I don’t necessarily think the votes to oust two incumbents … were solely about those two commissioners. I don’t think the sheriff, who endorsed challengers who defeated incumbents in the county commission races, gets the credit either.
“I think Doña Ana County has too often been in the news in recent years for lawsuits that cost taxpayers’ money, problems at the jail, political fighting, budgetary problems, and an unpopular tax increase – and voters are tired of it all,” Haussamen said. “So they voted for new leadership in both races where they had a say this election cycle. Had the sheriff been on the ballot, the result very well could have been the same for him – and that’s true of the other commissioners as well,” he said.
Haussamen said he thinks local legislative races “have the potential to affect the balance of power in Santa Fe. Three of four seats that flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2014 to give the GOP control of the New Mexico House for the first time in six decades are located partially or entirely in Doña Ana County. In particular, the race between Republican Andy Nuñez and Democrat Nathan Small could be one of the most expensive legislative races ever, with oil and gas backing Nuñez and environmental and progressive groups backing Small with campaign donations — and dark money too,” he said.
“Two Senate races will also be hotly contested,” Haussamen said. “Can Democrat Jeff Steinborn, who gave up his House seat to run for Senate, unseat Republican Lee Cotter? And can Republican Ceil Levatino, who has to give up her Las Cruces City Council seat if she wins, unseat Democrat Bill Soules?
“The House is more likely to be in play than the Senate, but it’s possible control of both chambers will be up for grabs,” Haussamen said. “The uncertainty at the top of the ticket surrounding the turmoil in the GOP and their presumptive presidential nominee, and the question of what Democrat Bernie Sanders’ supporters will do in November, makes it really difficult to predict how voter turnout will affect down-ballot races,” he said.
Donisthorpe said Hillary Clinton was able to defeat Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary in Doña Ana County and statewide because of her “strong Hispanic base of support. She led Bernie by as much as 40 to 50 points in the Hispanic voting category in some of these counties,” he said.
Overall, the primary election went smoothly in the county, Krahling said.
“No election is perfect, but we are very happy with how it went overall,” he said. “Our office did an excellent job preparing for and anticipating the turnout so that it was a good experience for voters in our community.
“We are excited that so many people participated in this election,” Krahling said. “We had many firsts. Memorial Day voting was a huge success as 460 people voted on that day. Many 17-year-olds voted in the primary election. We had user- friendly sample ballots and online tracking of line length available to the public. Free bus rides including Dial-A-Ride services were also available in Las Cruces and throughout the county. This was by far the most exciting election I have run because our staff and poll workers did an excellent job; we witnessed the successes of our outreach program and the tools we implemented for an organized and well run election,” he said.
Krahling said Tuesday, Oct. 11, is the last day to register for the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election.
For more information, visit https:// donaanacounty. org/elections.