Beth Cole and Bronwyn Olsen high-fived each other after they voted at the Doña Ana County Government Center on Wednesday.
With smiles on their faces, the two women said they were excited to vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. Both Democrats, they said they voted early in part to avoid protests or poll-watching by supporters of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Election Day, which is Nov. 8.
“I just don’t want to deal with that nonsense. This should be a positive experience,” Cole said.
Rickey Martin, on the other hand, voted on Wednesday for Trump. He said current President Barack Obama has tried “to destroy this nation” and Clinton would take the United States “down the tubes.”
“I don’t completely agree with everything he says,” Martin said of Trump, “but he supports this nation. This is a real important election.”
Martin said he’s concerned about shenanigans on Election Day but doesn’t plan to watch polling places.
There’s high interest in the presidential race, and in Doña Ana County lots of people — particularly Democrats — are turning out to vote early. As of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, 6,372 people had voted early at the government center, the only polling place that’s currently open in the county. Another 627 had returned absentee ballots. In all 6,999 people had already voted.
If that trend continues, 2016 turnout is on track to top the last presidential election in 2012, when 31,252 people voted early and another 3,540 voted absentee in Doña Ana County. Early voting continues through Nov. 5, and another six polling locations are opening in the county this weekend.
Doña Ana County’s early and absentee voting thus far nearly matches the total in Bernalillo County, which has almost four times as many registered voters. As of Wednesday, 3,673 people had voted early in Bernalillo County, and another 3,582 had returned absentee ballots, so there were 7,255 votes total. That’s higher turnout than Bernalillo County had at this point during the 2012 election, said Joey Keefe, spokesman for the clerk’s office there.
Statewide, 44,119 people had voted early and absentee as of Tuesday, the Secretary of State’s Office said. Registered voters in Doña Ana County account for about 9 percent statewide but are responsible for almost 16 percent of all votes cast thus far in this year’s general election.
In Doña Ana County the early voting appears to favor Democrats. Of the 114,059 registered voters in the county, 46 percent are Democrats, 27 percent are Republicans, and another 27 percent are registered as “independents” — meaning they don’t have a political affiliation or are members of a minor party such as Green or Libertarian.
Of the county’s early and absentee voters as of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, 3,680, or 58 percent, were Democrats, while 1,823, or about 28.5 percent, were Republicans, and 869, or about 13.6 percent, were independents.
In other words, Democrats are turning out to vote in higher numbers than their share of voter registration, while Republican turnout thus far is roughly proportionate to registration. Turnout by independents and minor party members is lower than their share of registration.
If most Democrats are voting for Clinton, that turnout could match recent polling in New Mexico and across the nation showing Clinton pulling ahead of Trump. Andy Moralez, a Democrat who is working on the campaign of 2nd Congressional District candidate Merrie Lee Soules, said he believes the high turnout is good for Clinton.
“I think people are really concerned that if they don’t vote, we get a Trump presidency and things can go backwards,” Moralez said after voting for Clinton and Soules on Wednesday.
Martin, on the other hand, said he believes the polling is wrong — like most of it was wrong in advance of the United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union earlier this year. Martin said he believes people who aren’t regular voters and may not get polling calls will show up for Trump.
Soules’ opponent, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, a Republican, has a history of winning some Democratic votes, and Martin said the fact that more Democrats are voting before Election Day doesn’t necessarily mean Clinton benefits.
In addition to interest in the presidential race, the high turnout may also be due in part to the fact that Doña Ana County has the greatest concentration of contested state legislative races. Democrats and Republicans are locked in a battle for control of the state House of Representatives. There are two hotly contested state Senate seats in Doña Ana County as well. Voters in the county have been flooded with mailers, phone calls, and radio and web ads supporting or opposing legislative candidates.
The County Clerk’s Office says its efforts are also boosting turnout. This year the office has gone beyond administering the election and counting votes to focus on registering and turning out voters. The Clerk’s Office has created a bipartisan advisory council on elections, visited schools and events to register and urge people to vote, included fliers about how to vote with mailed voter registration cards and city utility bills, and advertised about voting on NMPolitics.net and elsewhere.
Since mid-2015, the county has added about 14,000 new registered voters.
“The philosophy of what is a successful election is shifting in this office,” said Chief Deputy Clerk Scott Krahling, the Democrat running for county clerk this year. “Our efforts are paying off.”
Krahling and County Clerk Lynn Ellins said there’s been a recent trend toward thinking of an election as a season, rather than a day. That’s also boosted early turnout.
“There is a perception that this is going to be a huge turnout,” Ellins said about this year’s election. Some people, Ellins said, “don’t want to stand in line on Election Day and wait.”
There was a steady stream of voters at the county government center Wednesday morning but the line was short. Click here to find polling locations and hours in Doña Ana County, and here to find statewide information on how to vote.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on NMPolitics.net.