Officials are deploying additional Election Day resources to a polling place in Chaparral after a long line of voters caused delays during early voting on Saturday.
“We have offered advice and assistance to the clerk and she is now recruiting extra poll workers and deploying additional voting booths and supplies to help ensure voters are processed efficiently on Election Day,” said Ken Ortiz, chief of staff in the Secretary of State’s Office.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Chaparral and statewide on Tuesday.
About 400 people showed up to vote Saturday at the fire station in Chaparral. Saturday was the only day of early voting at the site, which is the only polling place in the part of Chaparral that is located in Otero County.
Some people reportedly waited in line for as long as two hours to vote at that site. The other polling places in Chaparral are in Doña Ana County and did not experience problems.
For some, the situation on Saturday brought back memories of 2012, when Otero County didn’t offer early voting in Chaparral and voters could only cast ballots on Election Day. The polling site was overwhelmed on Election Day that year. Some people waited several hours to vote.
Willie Madrid, the Democrat running this year for the District 53 seat in the N.M. House of Representatives, which includes Chaparral, expressed concern about people being able to vote on Tuesday.
“The turnout here in Chaparral has truly been remarkable,” Madrid said in a news release. “I urge the county clerk to take decisive action to ensure that all voters can exercise their constitutional right to vote.”
The Otero County Clerk, Denise Guerra, said she’s doing what she can. “They don’t get treated differently than any other polling location,” she said. “They’re as important to us as any other place.”
Multiple issues make the situation in Chaparral difficult, she said. For starters, there’s not a building in the Otero County part of Chaparral where she can open a second polling place. The county is constructing a community center there, so that will change in the future, she said.
Another issue is what happened outside the polling place on Saturday. Guerra said someone set up a jumping balloon, people were cooking hot dogs, and someone was telling people waiting in line that they had to vote in every race on the ballot — which isn’t true, and led to questions when people got to the front of the line.
“There’s people out there causing this chaos,” Guerra said.
She also said on Saturday people were “taking a long time in the booth reading the ballot.” In Chaparral, Guerra said, some people don’t spend time studying the ballot before showing up to vote in spite of her office’s efforts to encourage that.
Guerra said there may not be a long line to vote Tuesday. In 2012 about 600 people voted on Election Day at the fire station in Chaparral, so it may be that most voters in that area already cast ballots Saturday.
Diane Wood, voting rights director for the nonprofit group Common Cause New Mexico, doubts that.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they didn’t get double the number of people voting on Election Day, myself,” Wood said. “I think voters are motivated. We’ve seen it in the early vote. I think it’s just going to be a heavier turnout, period.”
The Attorney General’s Office said it will have an employee at the Chaparral polling place on Election Day. Wood said Common Cause will have poll watchers there too.
She said she was encouraged that community groups, the county clerk, and state agencies were working together to beef up resources at the polling place.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Wood said. “I think that it’s better than it would have been because of the work that everybody’s done on it.”
Anyone who experiences problems can call Common Cause’s election protection hotlines: 866-OUR-VOTE in English and 888-Ve-Y-VOTA for a bilingual English and Spanish option.