In a state like New Mexico — with single-party control of government and no independent redistricting commission — gerrymandering is almost a foregone conclusion. But a newly passed bill aims to curb partisan manipulation of election maps in the Land of Enchantment.
In the early hours of Saturday, the last day of New Mexico's legislative session, lawmakers gave final approval to an advisory redistricting commission. Although the measure is not as potent as reform advocates wanted, it could open the door for more comprehensive changes later on.
States are awaiting the final, delayed numbers from the 2020 census so they can begin the redistricting process in time for the next round of elections. Twenty-one states will have Republicans controlling the process, while nine, including New Mexico, will have Democrats in charge. The remaining 20 states either have a divided government or some type of fully independent redistricting commission.
Pieces of several competing redistricting measures were merged together at the last minute as Democrats and Republicans worked out a compromise bill, which passed with near unanimous agreement. The measure creates a seven-member commission that will draft election maps for the Legislature to consider and amend before sending to the governor for final approval.
When the legislative session began in January, reform advocates had hoped to pry redistricting matters out of lawmakers' hands completely and hand it over to a truly independent commission. Earlier versions of the measure would have barred lawmakers from making amendments to the commission's proposed election maps.
That effort was shot down, however, because some lawmakers claimed preventing their amendments would violate the state constitution. As a result, a more diluted version of the redistricting measure that allows legislators to make changes ultimately moved forward.
While the end result was not everything redistricting reform advocates wanted, they are celebrating the parts of the bill that will make the process more fair and transparent.
"The passage of SB 304 is just the beginning of the end. We have to remain vigilant throughout the whole process to assure that we deliver fair district maps that will make New Mexico proud," said Dick Mason, project manager for Fair Districts for New Mexico.
At the very least, New Mexicans wanted to avoid another disastrous and expensive redistricting process like the one a decade ago. In 2010, the Legislature (controlled by Democrats) and GOP Gov. Susana Martinez couldn't come to an agreement on election maps, so the issue had to be settled in federal court — costing taxpayers $7 million in legal fees.
Now, with a Democratic governor and Legislature, this partisan disagreement is not as much of a concern, and the inaugural redistricting commission should help keep map disputes away from the courts.
Additionally, the approved legislation sets far more rigorous standards for election maps than was previously allowed. Most importantly, it limits the use of partisan data — such as voting history and party registration information — that makes maps less competitive and more favorable to incumbents.
The measure also explicitly states that the boundaries of Native American tribal lands must be recognized during the process. Historically, gerrymandering has taken a severe toll on Native Americans, who make up 11 percent of New Mexico's total population.
To bolster transparency around a process that in the past took place mostly behind closed doors, the redistricting commission must hold at least six meetings that are accessible online and allow for public participation. Map proposals must also be made available for public comment.
Ed Chavez, co-chair of the state's Redistricting Task Force and retired chief justice of the state Supreme Court, called the bill "groundbreaking."
"This will be the first time that a citizen group will drive the process instead of lawmakers. The public's participation will help ensure that, in the long-term, voters have a fair and equal opportunity to select representatives of their choice," he said.
The bill now goes to Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is expected to sign it. Once enacted, the state has until July 1 to form the commission.
The majority and minority leadership in the state House and Senate will appoint four of the seven members on the redistricting commission. The State Ethics Commission will select two more members, who cannot be registered Republicans or Democrats, and the chairperson, who must be a retired state Supreme Court justice or appeals court judge.
New Mexico's commission will then work to send map proposals to the Legislature by the end of October. Commissioners will draft three plans for the state's three congressional districts, the state House, the state Senate and the Public Education Commission. The Legislature will then enter a special session to consider the maps and vote on which ones to send to Lujan Grisham for final approval and adoption.
While New Mexico's commission is not the gold standard, it does closely resemble panels used in other blue states like Maine and Rhode Island. In those states, the redistricting commission guides the process, but allows lawmakers to make modifications. Reform advocates prefer commissions that are more independent and authoritative, such as the versions used in California or Michigan.
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Since New Mexico enacted a new disclosure law last year, more than $800,000 in political spending has been publicly reported by nonprofit groups that in the past would have remained largely hidden.
It's a change that Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver calls "a huge victory." But Austin Graham of the Campaign Legal Center, which advocates for tighter regulation of money in politics, is more reserved: "What's on the books in New Mexico is not the most cutting edge, but it's undoubtedly a big improvement from the last decade."
The New Mexico experience illustrates that improving the transparency of how campaigns are financed can be done, but making progress often requires incremental steps that take a lot of time. What has happened in New Mexico is an example of what states across the country must grapple with when they seek to slow the influence of money over their own politics, at a time when federal regulation of presidential and congressional elections has shriveled.
An ocean of money still floats through the state's elections while remaining out of public view — it's spent on mailers and advertising that blanket television, radio and social media as elections near — because the new law didn't strengthen donor disclosure requirements for political action committees.
More than $4.8 million in spending on campaigns across the state this year came from PACs whose donations are very difficult if not impossible to trace to their original source, according to an analysis by New Mexico In Depth and The Fulcrum. That's because their donors often are nonprofit groups or other PACs, so the only way to learn where the money originally came from is to find out the contributors to those other groups.
Finding out who gives to nonprofit organizations — so-called "dark money groups" — can be next to impossible, because for the most part they aren't required to identify their own donors.
But identifying who is giving to groups registered as political action committees in Santa Fe is difficult, too, it turns out. Sifting and sorting through multiple layers of public reports that PACs must file might lead to original sources of their money, but more often it comes to a dead end.
Welcome to the world of "gray money" — when PACs give to other PACs.
One salient example in New Mexico this year was the almost $1 million spent by two groups to promote a ballot measure, passed with 56 percent support, that will make the state's Public Regulation Commission an appointed rather than elected body. The Committee to Protect New Mexico Consumers reported spending $269,000 but didn't disclose its donors. Vote Yes to Reform the New Mexico PRC spent $689,600 and reported that its donors were five other groups — one based in New Mexico and the others in Washington, D.C., or New York.
Creating a system with far greater transparency about who's seeking to influence elections may be daunting, but other states have done it and offer models for drawing back the curtain on political giving. Several campaign finance experts point to California in particular. For nearly five decades, its robust campaign finance system has been successful in promoting transparency in one of the largest political spending markets in the country.
Awash in gray as well as dark money
Since the Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC lifted restraints a decade ago on political money spent independently of candidates, secretive spending has only become more entrenched in American elections. The Brennan Center for Justice, a liberal public policy institute at New York University Law School, found that just four years after the decision, only 29 percent of outside spending in state races across the country was transparent — plummeting from 76 percent four years before the ruling.
In a 2016 report, the center described dark and gray money as especially harmful in state elections because special interests can spend far less than they would at the federal level and still have a substantial influence on the outcome.
"For candidates used to modest budgets and low-key campaigning, dark money can prove an unfair and expensive obstacle, possibly discouraging potential candidates from deciding to compete," it concluded.
Six years ago, two-thirds of contributions to political committees nationally came from other PACs. And such gray money has only become more pervasive in state and local elections since, said Chisun Lee, one of the authors of the Brennan report.
"Gray money is a convenient and too often legal way to conceal the identity of the true giver of the money for political spending," she said. "Why wouldn't political donors take that route if they're able?"
New Mexico In Depth analyzed every contribution made to a political action committee in the state during the 2018 and 2020 campaigns, focusing on transactions of $500 or more. Based on these contributions, we identified 11 funded mostly with dark money from nonprofits and 25 that received most contributions with gray money from other PACs. All together, these PACs spent almost $13 million over the last two elections, roughly a third of all PAC expenditures in the state.
The biggest of them, the Verde Voters Fund of Conservation Voters New Mexico, paid more than $2.5 million primarily to communications and political consulting firms. But the source of the cash that came from its largest donor, the League of Conservation Voters, is permitted to remain a mystery.
Perhaps most clearly emblematic of gray money, though, is a PAC called Better Future for New Mexico, which funneled $1.6 million to other PACs operating in the state. It reported raising $2.7 million, almost entirely from three nonprofits: State Victory Action, Grove Action Fund and Civic Participation Action Fund. Two of them don't have to report their donors, and they didn't.
California goes deep on disclosure
Had those contributions been given to groups in California for political activity, those groups would have likely had to file their own reports with that state. California is seen as a model for how other states could implement disclosure laws geared toward identifying the original source of campaign finance dollars.
Even though campaigning and lobbying in the nation's most populous state is a billion-dollar industry, Sacramento has kept dark and gray money spending at bay.
California requires groups to disclose the source of the money they use to influence elections, and goes a step further by requiring donors themselves to file reports if they give generously enough.
Groups involved in elections must report donors who give $100 or more for political purposes. But when such money doesn't account for a group's entire spending in an election, it must start identifying donors whose gifts weren't earmarked for political activity — starting with the most recent, until the total donated matches the total spent.
But what combats gray money secrecy in California the most is its major donor rule.
PACs taking a gift above $5,000 must notify those donors they might be required to file their own report with the state — which they have to do once their cumulative campaign donations top $10,000. And if those major donors, in turn, have raised money to fuel their political giving, they must register as a political committee under California law and send similar disclosure notices to their own generous donors. This process continues until all the original donors are identified.
Hiding behind a corporate identity is not allowed; the $10,000 threshold combines money from individuals and businesses or groups they control. And failure to disclose the "true source" of a campaign's money can be prosecuted by the state as money laundering.
Beyond the reporting requirements, California puts donor information in front of the public when they're confronted with a political ad — in print, on social media, or on TV or radio. In some cases, the "paid for by" messages must list the sponsor's three most generous donors at $50,000 or more.
Then there is the state's Fair Political Practices Commission. Established 46 years ago in response to the Watergate scandal, the bipartisan watchdog agency is independent from the state government.
Last year the panel responded to more than 14,200 phone and email inquiries, hosted 44 workshops about state campaign finance law and resolved almost 1,500 enforcement cases, including 343 settlements that produced almost $800,000 in fines. It also has the power to set new money-in-politics rules, including one that took effect in August requiring some businesses to name the person primarily responsible for approving political activity.
"While the amount of dollars spent is an issue for some people, our main concern is that the public gets to see where the money is coming from," said Jay Wierenga, a commission spokesperson.
Making change in New Mexico
Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico's chief elections official as secretary of state, said she supports further bolstering of the state's campaign finance disclosures because it's important information for the public is making voting decisions. "It's something that I absolutely will be talking to our legislators about as we prepare for the next legislative session," she said.
The 2021 session of the Democratic-majority Legislature convenes in January for its regular annual session. But Toulouse Oliver expressed trepidation, saying she didn't want to see New Mexico's laws voided by the courts again, after a decade during which the state's Campaign Reporting Act was unenforceable. And she said a push for new rules would likely be an uphill effort.
"It's something that I anticipate having a lot of pushback on from every entity or organization that does this kind of political activity, because it will mean that they have to dedicate more resources to keeping their books straight in terms of where the money is coming from," she said.
Both the Brennan Center report and New Mexico reform advocates point to evidence the public wants greater disclosure. In a poll last year by the Campaign Legal Center, 85 percent of Democrats and 81 percent of Republicans supported changing the rules to require public disclosure of contributions to all organizations that spend money on elections — effectively ending the world of dark money. And a poll last year by Common Cause New Mexico found 94 percent support statewide for enhancing campaign finance disclosures.
But the Brennan Center report also warns that states should set reasonable parameters and not make disclosure laws unduly burdensome on the free speech rights of political groups or their benefactors.
"The idea is not to force transparency against everyone and their neighbor who is participating, but rather common-sense disclosure laws so voters can be informed about substantial donors and who is influencing public discourse," said Lee of the Brennan Center.
One possible reason that reforming New Mexico campaign finance law has taken so long is that citizen-initiated ballot measures are not allowed — so changing the rules is up to legislators, for whom ease in raising campaign money is top of mind.
Dede Feldman, who retired after 16 years as a Democratic state senator, during which she championed a law imposing campaign contribution limits, said the possibility of changing such rules presents legislators with a tough choice: Protect themselves and their odds of getting re-elected or do what's best for the public?
"When you come to power with one system, you are reluctant to give that up," she said.
Metzger is a reporting fellow at New Mexico In Depth. This story was written and edited in collaboration with that nonprofit news site.
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Usually, the results of a presidential election provide the main drama. Usually, it is not the story of how Americans are going to vote that's packed with twists, conflicts, and a constant litany of first evers and never befores.
Of course, almost nothing about 2020 has been usual. In fact, it may be the most historically significant year leading up to a national election in memory. So the fighting over how to hold a comprehensive, safe and reliable election has often been tough to follow in the shadows of impeachment, pandemic and economic calamity.
There are five weeks to go. But the path traveled so far — by good-government activists, election officials, security watchdogs, political leaders, legions of attorneys and regular citizens — becomes clear through the lens of a single state. We've chosen New Mexico. It's more rural, poor, politically blue and demographically brown than the nation. But its election experience this year nicely reflects the calamity the country's already gone through, even before the fight over the actual count begins.
Ready for the war games
As the long campaign season began, talk about a fair and trustworthy vote was almost entirely about election security.
After all, numerous investigations — by special counsel Robert Mueller, by Congress and by the intelligence community itself — had reached the same conclusion: Russia repeatedly attempted to hack into our election systems in 2016. Its efforts were mostly unsuccessful. But the mere idea of a foreign power trying to fiddle with our most sacred of democratic institutions had set off a flurry of activity to strengthen the country's defenses against election hacking.
And so just days before last Christmas about 120 local and state election officials — including New Mexico's election director, Mandy Vigil — gathered in a suburban Washington hotel ballroom for war games on different cyber-security election disaster scenarios.
Among the speakers was a former Army officer with battlefield experience. Participants worked out of binders titled "The Elections Battlestaff Playbook." Some facilitators insisted on anonymity because of the sensitivity of their security work.
The militaristic vibe was intentional, explained one of the hosts, Eric Rosenbach, an Army intelligence officer before he was chief of staff to Defense Secretary Ash Carter in the Obama administration. "Let's be honest," he said. "If democracy is under attack and you guys are the ones at the pointy end of the spear, why shouldn't we train that way?"
New Mexico entered the year better positioned than many states because it was already doing two things election security experts view as essential for assuring election integrity.
Back in 2006, it became one of the earliest states to mandate the use of paper ballots, which create a tangible record for use in recounts, to resolve disputes or to check suspicions of results being hacked.
The state also claims to be the first to adopt what's seen as the gold-standard for those checks: so-called risk-limiting audits, in which random samples of ballots are recounted until officials have statistical certainty the overall results are accurate — similar to the sampling used in public opinion polls.
A test case on voting by mail
March 10 changed everything in New Mexico, including elections.
On that Tuesday, the state Department of Health reported the first case of coronavirus in the New Mexico. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency the next day.
Three weeks later, 27 of the state's 33 county clerks, joined by Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulose Oliver, went to the state's highest court seeking permission to conduct the primaries mostly by mail. It was one of the earliest such efforts after the pandemic began, but their petition presciently labeled it a public health emergency "unprecedented in modern times."
(At that time there were about 200 Covid-19 cases in the state and two deaths. Totals at the end of last week were 28,000 cases and 859 deaths.)
April 14 marked another milestone in the state's 108-year history — the first time its Supreme Court heard oral arguments on a video conference call. After deliberating two hours, the justices rejected the idea of delivering mail-in ballots to all registered Republicans and Democrats and then restricting in-person voting.
State law is clear that absentee ballots may only be sent to people who request them, the court concluded, so the most the justices could (and did) do was order applications be sent to everyone registered and eligible to vote in the primary.
It was the kind of argument, and the sort of decision, that has subsequently played out in courtroom after courtroom, as officials and voting rights groups have sought to protect voters across the country from having to risk their health in order to cast their ballots — often in the face of laws that never anticipated a year when the electorate was being told to stay away from large gatherings, such as polling places, whenever possible.
The result has been the most litigated election ever. The Healthy Election Project, a joint effort of MIT and Stanford, is tracking 300 cases — many of the most important among them yet to be decided or with the initial rulings under appeal. Many of the lawsuits are, like the trendsetting New Mexico case, focused on efforts by Democrats to ease limitations on absentee ballots. But plenty are also efforts by Republicans to make voting tougher.
State legislatures have also gotten into the act, with 49 states enacting 369 election-related laws this year, many related to voting by mail, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. That's a 43 percent increase from the roster of election-related laws enacted five years ago.
Governors have been major players as well. Seventeen of them delayed statewide or presidential primaries — and ordered second delays in Louisiana, Georgia, Connecticut and Delaware. An overlapping list of 17 decreed other changes, including ordering that all voters receive an absentee ballot or an application.
Perturbing primary problems
The primaries themselves were a mixed bag, with several raising concerns about whether safe and fair elections are possible this year given the pandemic persistence.
Contradictory and complex court rulings, in cases seeking mail-in easements and an outright delay, kept Wisconsin's April primary in limbo until the night before. Scores of poll workers, many elderly and at higher risk of viral infection, did not show. And the first big worries emerged about the Postal Service's ability to fulfill its newly vital election roll. The next big mess was in Georgia in June, when undelivered absentee ballots, a shrunken roster of polling places and brand new but balky voting machines produced hours-long lines at the polls. Later that month, a surge of mailed ballots in New York produced a several-week wait for the final result of two razor-close congressional contests.
The situation was not nearly so bad, but still bad enough, when the polls closed June 2 in New Mexico. Tabulators were overwhelmed and the reason was easy to identify: the record number — 246,000 — taking advantage of the applications they'd been sent and then returning completed ballots. Overall turnout was one-quarter more than for the presidential primary in 2016 and the share of ballots cast absentee increased almost tenfold — to 63 percent from 7 percent four years ago.
The top election official in Albuquerque sent his staff home before midnight and told them to finish tackling the envelopes in the morning. Poll workers in Santa Fe took three days to finish their count. And in the end 2,400 ballots statewide weren't counted because they arrived after the polls closed — a rejection rate, echoing the nationwide number in primaries this year, of 1 percent.
Because primary turnout was the highest in almost three decades, even though Joe Biden had clinched the Democratic presidential nomination by that point, there looks to be another big burst in November — even though the former vice president is a near lock to carry the state's five electoral votes and color the state blue on the national map for the seventh time in eight elections. (Hillary Clinton won it last time by 8 points.)
The hottest race is in the one usually Republican congressional district, which covers the arid and sparsely populated southern half of the state. Democrat Xochitl Torres Small, who narrowly won in 2018, is in a tossup match against former GOP state legislator Yvette Herrell.
The legislators respond
Within days of the primary, the New Mexico Legislature was considering a bill to address some of the problems with the primary. The original bill by the majority Democrats would have allowed county clerks to proactively deliver ballots to everyone on their rolls in early October, ending the by-request-only rule. Republican legislators balked, echoing President Trump's persistent and baseless claim that so many ballots in circulation will guarantee election fraud.
That provision was abandoned, and instead a law enacted at the end of June permits clerks to mail applications for absentee ballots to all. Counties with two-thirds of the state's people are already planning to do that, and more are expected to join them.
The law also protects Native American voting rights by mandating that polling places on reservations may not be closed without written permission from tribal leaders.
"The Covid-19 crisis has created many challenges, but voting should not be one of them," said Democrat Linda Trujillo, a sponsor of the bill in the state House.
The fight goes postal
It's perhaps unsurprising that one of the most venerable institutions of the government, the Postal Service, is at the center of the next chapter of a saga that has swept away so much confidence in our most hallowed democratic institution, the election.
A Pew Research Center survey in March found 47 percent of Americans holding a "very favorable" view of the USPS, but an AP poll in September found just 34 percent with "great confidence" in the post office — a sharp 13-point drop in just six months. In between, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy became a household name and the face of the election integrity controversy.
Brand new on the job — without any previous postal experience, but with stock options in a Postal Service competitor and a long record of generous donations to Trump and the GOP — DeJoy launched an overhaul of the financially troubled USPS. It included moving out many in top leadership, several who had worked on election mail issues; banning overtime, including to handle election mail; and removing sorting equipment from some distribution centers.
In August, Democratic Attorney General Hector Balderas of New Mexico and the attorneys general of 22 other states filed three separate lawsuits to make DeJoy reverse those changes at least through the election. "The Postal Service is a vital lifeline for rural New Mexico, and this action threatens to disproportionately harm our Indigenous communities, from their daily living to their ability to participate in our democracy," Balderas said.
An important preliminary victory came a month later, on Sept. 17, when a federal judge in Washington state (ruling in the suit New Mexico had joined) temporarily blocked all of the operational and policy changes made by the Postal Service this summer.
"At the heart of DeJoy's and the Postal Service's actions is voter disenfranchisement," Judge Stanley Bastian wrote, concluding there's strong evidence "the recent changes are the result of an effort by the current administration to use the Postal Service as a tool in partisan politics."
At the same time the state was pressing its case against the Postal Service, however, New Mexico's elections director was expressing confidence in her working relationship with postal officials in the state.
One reason for optimism is another piece of the new elections law, which set an absentee ballot application cutoff nine days earlier than in the past. The new date is Oct. 20, a full week ahead of the post office's recommended deadline for getting completed ballots in the mail and being confident they'll arrive in time to be counted.
Like 32 other states, New Mexico law says envelopes that arrive after the polls close on Election Day must be tossed, although a series of court rulings have ordered deadline extensions in several swing states.
The latest, maybe not last, dispute
Another response to concerns about ballots delayed too long in the mail and not arriving in time has been to deploy more drop boxes. More than half the 2016 presidential votes in Colorado, Oregon and Washington — three states that conducted almost all elections remotely before the pandemic — were deposited in these secure canisters.
But like almost every other aspect of election arcana this year, this seemingly simple alternative has become embroiled in partisan controversy.
Trump has sued in federal court to block the planned use of drop boxes in battleground Pennsylvania, arguing they will invite fraud. GOP secretaries of state in reliably red Tennessee and Missouri decided against them, the former citing possible cheating and the latter saying they are against state law. Democrats have successfully sued to get more than one dropbox in each county in purplish Ohio, but the Republican in charge of the state's elections has appealed.
New Mexico is one of eight states with laws outlining how drop boxes may be used. Secretary of State Toulouse Oliver's office announced last week that several million dollars in federal election funds will be spent to install drop boxes across the state.
No one has sued to stop her — yet.
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Major worries expressed by election officials and good-government groups all came true on the biggest day of voting since the coronavirus pandemic shut down much of the country: absentee ballots that were never delivered, long lines for those who voted in person and results that have not been fully tabulated a day later.
At the same time, records were broken Tuesday in several states for turnout in a primary, with citizens seemingly determined to cast their ballots despite the extraordinary circumstance of holding elections during both a deadly pandemic and a time of violent civil unrest.
The principal takeaway is that plenty of work needs to be completed and improvements made in just five months, or else the country may not be able to conduct a safe and reliable presidential election — and potentially one with record turnout.
Voters went to the polls in eight states and the District of Columbia to choose nominees for congressional and local offices and to push former Vice President Joe Biden toward the cusp of securing the Democratic nomination to challenge President Trump.
All the states encouraged as many people as possible to vote remotely and mail back their ballots well in advance, and several of them buttressed that request by relaxing rules for requesting, completing and tabulating absentee ballots.
The results proved so successful that in some states the share of people voting by mail soared by an order of magnitude, or more, from recent primaries. The increase meant, however, that election officials were so overburdened by the incoming ocean of paper that they made clear they would not be able to tabulate the results in time to announce winners on election night — and maybe not for a few days
Officials at VoteSafe, a new bipartisan initiative working to make elections safe and accessible, said Wednesday that this round of voting showed that for the fall election officials need to make sure absentee ballots are sent out earlier, that plenty of polling stations will still be needed — and that election officials need to be better prepared to count record numbers of absentee ballots.
"At least one result is clear already though," the group said. "Voters want choices in how they vote including secure absentee ballots and safe in-person voting locations. We can deliver that in November, and we must."
Here are snapshots of what happened in this week's elections around the country:
District of Columbia
- The city opened just 20 polling places, not the usual 143, and as a result hundred of voters were standing in line for as long as three hours after the polls closed at 8 p.m., an hour after a citywide curfew had begun.
- About 90,000 absentee ballots were requested, 15 times the usual number, and there were signs many thousands were not delivered in time. One city council member was encouraging people who had not received their absentee ballots to vote via email — something sure to spark worries by security experts.
- The state said 546,000 people requested absentee ballots, 10 times the number two years ago, after the government abandoned the usual excuse requirements in light of the coronavirus outbreak.
- By midday Wednesday, less than one-third of the precincts in statewide races had been counted.
- Ironically, the state where the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses had been such a disaster in February appeared to have the least problems, with complete results available. A turnout record of 487,000 votes for a primary election was set, in part because the state sent absentee ballot applications to every registered voter.
- Long lines were reported even though, for example, 95 percent of the votes in the Republican presidential primary were cast by mail.
- Results from the city of Baltimore were pulled from the state website after a mistake was discovered in the ballot
- Competitive primaries for both parties' nominations for governor drew more than 57 percent turnout, at or near a record for a primary in the state. All 56 counties chose to conduct their primaries almost entirely by mail after Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock gave his permission.
- As of Wednesday, 87 percent of the precincts had been counted.
- About 250,000 of the 400,000 votes cast were absentee ballots. And the surge (only 23,000 mailed votes were counted in the 2016 primary) was so strong at the last minute that the county elections boss in Albuquerque sent his staff home before midnight, the counting resuming in the morning.
- Still, in-person voting was higher than expected. State GOP Chairman Steve Pearce said that some people who had requested absentee ballots voted in person instead because they were worried their absentee ballots would not arrive in time at election offices to be counted.
- Final results will not be known until next week, state election officials told the Associated Press, in part because state officials made last-minute decisions to allow ballots mailed by the time the polls closed in eight urban and suburban counties to be counted if they arrived as long as a week later.
- Demonstrations against police brutality, combined with changed rules because of public health concerns, were the reason. In Philadelphia, for example, 70 percent of the polling places were closed because of unrest downtown — including 18 consolidated at the convention center, which was in an area where cars had been barred.
- The delayed results included determining the nominees in four highly competitive congressional districts. "We're accustomed to knowing more results from around the commonwealth on primary night, but since this is the first time we have vote-by-mail on this scale, it's important to remember that an accurate count is far more important than a quick count," state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nancy Patton Mills said.
- Election officials are still at work Wednesday counting ballots, and it may be several more days until they finish.
- So many people requested vote-by-mail ballots that they all didn't arrive in time to be mailed back so state officials decided to provide secure boxes to every community where ballots could be dropped.
- Turnout was about 25 percent with almost 90 percent of the precincts counted. Nearly five times as many absentee ballots were cast during the primary than in the 2016 primary.
- As a result of the push for voting by mail, turnout at in-person voting sites seemed minimal. Halfway through Tuesday, the downtown library in Sioux Falls, the state's largest city, had seen just 14 voters. On a normal election day, 150 have voted there before work.
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