The election process at the polls in Taos County and elsewhere has a cast of characters that keeps it all flowing smoothly. Here is a breakdown of what to expect, and a “who’s who at the polls.”
Election Board members (aka poll workers):
These are workers hired by the county clerk’s office, who are in charge of running the polling stations. They are there to make sure everything goes smoothly, and are the only ones who handle the ballots.
Each polling place has a presiding judge (or PJ) and two election judges at every polling place. The PJ and at least one election judge must be from different parties to allow for fairness. The PJ’s job is to keep general supervisory order, and will be the one to get anyone else involved, such as law enforcement.
Other credentialed staff, such as credited agents working for the county clerk or secretary of state’s office may be involved.
All staff will have appropriate badges.
“The Republican Party has not been shy about getting a lot of poll watchers to the polls this cycle,” said Curtas.
“Watchers are literally just watchers,” said Curtas. Watchers don’t retain any power or ability to interfere with any part of the polls – they are just there to watch. Watchers are limited to one per polling site this year.”
Watchers’ names have to be submitted to the secretary of state’s office. “Then we give them a letter granting them access,” said Curtas. They can also be chosen by election related organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, or Common Cause New Mexico.“They also have to be voters in the county.”
“We are definitely seeing more [watchers] this year. We are getting more watchers this year because of this push from the Republican Party – nationally and locally – to come out with specious allegations of voter fraud,” said Curtas.
Despite what it may seem, watchers are to remain nonpartisan. “If a group of three candidates gets together, they can appoint watchers,” Curtas said. “There’s a lot of concern down [in southern New Mexico] about those races. That’s where we’re seeing the real push for watchers.”
While watchers just observe the goings-on, challengers serve a slightly more interactive roll at the polls.
“The challengers actually do have some power to interpose challenges to people that they do not believe to be eligible to be voters,” said Curtas. Challengers are able to question individuals’ ability to vote. “These people are appointed by county or state parties,” he added. Challengers also have to be voters in the county in which they are appointed.
Each party may appoint a challenger.
Observers are usually watching the polls internationally, for more scientific reasons. Nongovernmental organizations like the United Nations and others tend to make up the vast majority of election observers.
They have no authority to interfere with the election process, but are simply there to gather data.
Law enforcement at polling places is something that voters should not expect to see. If there are problems, the presiding judges of the polling locations can make determinations if they need to get law enforcement involved. Curtas said that “voters should be aware that there should not be a law enforcement presence at polling places – that is something that contributes to voter intimidation.”
“There have been concerns of large rallies happening, or people with guns standing around wanting to be vigilantes and watching the polls,” said Curtas of the public worry. He was quick to bring up various election laws. “Nothing can happen within 100 feet of the entrance of a polling location,” he said, adding that no party paraphernalia or representatives are allowed near the polls either. “If something does happen, the election officials are able to involve law enforcement if they need to.”
There will be various plexiglass barricades to provide for physically distance voting.
Polls will be limited to 25 percent of regular inside capacity, meaning that outside lines may be longer this year.