Western states lead the way in vote-by-mail elections

As the first wave of COVID-19 hits communities during primary season, states are still resolving how to hold elections in the middle of a pandemic. Voter advocates and organizers see the primaries as a test run, with many assuming that the November general election will also need to adapt to COVID-19. Since April, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, a virologist, and epidemiologists have predicted that another, potentially worse, wave of the virus will hit communities this fall and winter. Universal vote-by-mail is being promoted by secretaries of State and voter advocates alike as a clear solution to balancing voter access and public health concerns. In this area, the West leads the way.

Native Americans make up 50% of COVID-19 deaths in New Mexico

Half of the 200 people who had died as of yesterday in New Mexico from COVID-19 were Native Americans, a jarring number for a population that makes up 11% of the state’s population.It’s another grim statistic for the state’s 23 tribes who have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic in New Mexico. Nearly 60% of people identified to date through testing as infected with the virus are indigenous. Data about those who’ve died, provided to New Mexico In Depth by the New Mexico Department of Health, came in advance of Monday’s daily update from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office. That update included eight additional deaths, pushing the state’s death total to 208, four of which occurred in hard-hit McKinley County, where Native Americans make up almost 80% of the population. 

The 100 deaths attributed to Native Americans in New Mexico likely include Navajo people living in the state as well as Native Americans from the state’s more than 20 other tribes. 

Meanwhile, deaths attributed to white people in New Mexico–30%–exceed the 14% of identified positive cases attributed to that group, but still fall below their representation in the population as a whole.

New Mexico native Shaun Griswold joins New Mexico In Depth team

New Mexico In Depth welcomes reporter Shaun Griswold to our team beginning next week. Shaun is Pueblo from Laguna, Jemez and Zuni, and grew up in Albuquerque and Gallup. 

He brings a decade of print and broadcast news experience to our team. He’s covered Rocky Mountain fire seasons, local police reform, and, as he is sure to note, the Denver Broncos and Kendrick Lamar. 

Shaun Griswold

We’re thrilled by the opportunity to work with Shaun, thanks to Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities through its reporting corps. Report for America is an initiative of the nonprofit news organization, The GroundTruth Project. He joins 225 reporters placed by the program in 162 newsrooms around the country, from a pool of more than 1,800 applicants. 

For New Mexico In Depth, Shaun will focus on issues important to urban Indigenous people in Albuquerque, as well as tribal communities throughout New Mexico, including education, child welfare, and more. 

“I’m excited to join the ranks of Indigenous journalists at Indian Country Today, Navajo Times, High Country News and every publication focused on expanding news for thriving Indigenous communities that demand coverage,” he says about this opportunity. 

Native Americans compose 11% of the New Mexico state population, and Albuquerque is home to one of the largest communities of urban Indian  people in the country.

COVID-19 upends election planning

The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly upended the lives of New Mexicans in the past month. And if a majority of the state’s county clerks get their way, their primary election will be upended as well, with widespread voting by mail rather than traditional voting at polling sites. 

The pandemic, which has swept the globe and so far led to more than 20,000 American deaths, is picking up speed in New Mexico. 

Over the past month, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham through a series of emergency executive orders has largely closed down the state’s economy and ordered New Mexicans to stay home. Public health officials project that the number of illnesses in New Mexico will peak in mid to late May. No New Mexico public officials to date predict when the measures mandating New Mexicans stay home and congregate in groups no more than five will be lifted. 

A majority of county clerks (27 of the 33 clerks statewide) want to mail ballots directly to registered voters, rather than endanger the health of election workers and voters by holding a statewide election with more than 700 polling sites on June 2. Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver supports the idea. 

But the state Republican party, along with 31 Republican lawmakers and six county clerks, say a better option to directly mailing ballots to voters would be to promote widespread use of absentee voting, a two-step process available to all New Mexico voters, so that there are many fewer people showing up to the polls in person. 

In the middle is the state Supreme Court, which will hear arguments for and against a petition by the county clerks Tuesday.