County Clerk Lynn Ellins has known since Sunday which candidates won the early, in-person vote in Doña Ana County.
Ellins said his office received the ballot machines from seven early voting locations Saturday evening and tallied the results on Sunday morning. The printouts that show the results were then put in an envelope and “we put them in our vault” for safekeeping, Ellins said.
Who knows the results?
“Just probably me and the presiding judge,” Ellins said. The results will be released to the public after the polls close today at 7 p.m.
Counting early, in-person votes before Election Day is standard in Doña Ana County, said Ellins, who is completing his final term as county clerk this year.
The same is true in Bernalillo County, where the county clerk’s office tabulated the early, in-person voting results on Monday, said Joey Keefe, spokesman for that clerk’s office. The results there are being finalized today in preparation for release after the polls close tonight, he said.
The state’s election code “is silent” on when county clerks can count the early votes, so Keefe’s office goes by the requirements for absentee ballots, he said. Counting of absentee ballots can begin five days before Election Day “so long as results are not released,” Keefe said.
Absentee numbers aren’t finalized until after the polls close on Election Day, because those ballots can be returned through 7 p.m. that day. But the early, in-person numbers Ellins and a few others have seen are already final — and the results are a key indicator of who’s on track to win races.
Ken Ortiz, chief of staff in the Secretary of State’s Office, said the election code is “a bit unclear” about when early and absentee ballots can be tallied. “What is absolutely clear is that the results should be embargoed until the close of polls tonight,” he said.
Ellins said he hopes to release Doña Ana County’s early, in-person numbers immediately after the polls close at 7 p.m. He hopes to have final absentee voting numbers ready to release shortly after 7 p.m. as well.
The counting of early, in-person votes before the polls close raises interesting issues, said Viki Harrison, executive director of the good-government group Common Cause New Mexico. On one hand, clerks are — and should be — trying to provide results to the public quickly after polls close on Election Day. Tallying early votes before Election Day helps that.
On the other hand is concern about security. Harrison recommended that the state enact a law or regulation that clarifies when the votes can be counted and creates a standard practice statewide.
Such a rule should require those doing the early counting to sign an affidavit swearing not to share the results, and there should be penalties for violations, Harrison said.
“If you don’t have a procedure then you have no way of holding people accountable,” she said.
If the state instead wants to disallow early counting of results to ensure there are no leaks until everyone has had a chance to vote, Harrison said, the state will need to provide money to hire more people to speed the counting of results after the polls close on Election Day.
“I would love to have a great debate with the citizens of New Mexico about this and see what they think is the most important — and how we come to a good resolution that protects the elections and also makes sure we don’t have to wait a week to get results,” Harrison said.
Doña Ana County election results will be posted after 7 p.m. on its website. The numbers from Bernalillo County will be posted on its website. All New Mexico counties’ results will be posted on the secretary of state’s website.