By David Arkin: CNJ correspondent
The area’s high-profile district attorney’s race may be playing a key role in getting more people to register to vote.
The deadline to register to vote for the June 1 primary is Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, early voting and absentee voting begins.
Curry County Clerk Mario Trujillo said that during the last few weeks between 250 and 300 people have registered to vote in his office.
“It’s been steady,” he said. “We’ve been receiving a lot of registration forms. I would say that it is a little more than usual.”
The 9th Judicial District Attorney’s race pitting incumbent Brett Carter against Matt Chandler — both Republicans — may be one reason that registration numbers are high, Trujillo said. Also, there are Senate and Legislature races up for grabs in the June primary.
“I think the district attorneys race has prompted people to change parties,” Trujillo said.
Chandler said his grassroots effort has focused on getting people registered to vote. To date, he said he has helped sign up 350 new Republican voters.
“We dedicated all month of April to turning in voter registration forms,” he said. “We will continue to try to register people up until 5 o’clock on Tuesday.”
Carter said his campaign has also put a lot of time toward getting people registered.
“We have found some individuals for some reason who have never registered to vote,” he said. “We are carrying voter registration cards with us and we are finding those who aren’t registered. I think those who want to get registered feel they have a candidate to support where in the past they didn’t feel that way.”
The fact that Republicans now outnumber Democrats in Curry County by about 400 voters — a major change in party control in the county — shows that people may be switching parties to have a voice in the district attorney race.
According to the New Mexico Secretary of State’s Web Site, on Friday 8,624 or 45 percent of the county’s voters were Republican and 8,233 or 43 percent were Democrat.
The county’s Republicans took the lead among registered voters earlier this month.
In Roosevelt County, Democrats still hold the edge over Republicans. The Secretary of State’s Web site shows 4,516 or 46 percent Democrats and 3,889 or 40 percent Republicans registered in the county.
“It’s been a majority of Democrats for as long as I can remember,” said Roosevelt County Clerk Joyce Lee Fraze.
Fraze said her office is also seeing a surge of people wanting to get registered to vote.
“We have been seeing people come in here every day and sign up to vote,” she said.
Fraze said she didn’t know how many voters have signed up during the last few weeks in her office.
While the district attorney race is probably playing a role in getting more eastern New Mexico residents out to vote in June, those who run get-out-the-vote programs have their sights set on November’s big race. And the age group that those organizations believe will play a key role in the election is young voters.
Programs like Rock the Vote and one that’s getting lots of attention in New Mexico — the New Voters Project — are hoping that the 18 to 24 year-old crowd flexes its voting muscles in November.
The New Voters Project is a non-partisan effort aimed at getting young voters in six states — Iowa, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon and Colorado — to vote. The program is being called the largest young voter mobilization campaign in the country.
In New Mexico, organizers are trying to get more than 25,000 young voters registered.
“We are really working peer-to-peer outreach,” said James Moore, New Mexico’s New Voters Project director. “We are working with 13 different colleges and universities to make sure that they will institutionalize our programs.”
Eastern New Mexico University is one of the institutions planning to participate.
Candace Hale, who is currently getting her masters degree in communications at ENMU, serves as an intern with the New Voters Project and said she’s working hard to get programs together at ENMU so people in the fall will be educated on the issues and will be able to register to vote.
She said a youth vote plan has been approved by the university’s administration, faculty and students and she’s now working on getting it implemented.
As part of the program that will be offered at ENMU, literature on candidates and issues will be available to students. Also there will be voter registration booths set up in the Campus Union Building in the fall.
Hale said an organization called Devote has been started on campus, which gets out the importance to vote to both high school and college students.
In Portales, Hale said her group hopes to get 1,000 people registered to vote.
“People just aren’t educated on the issues,” she said. “There’s a lack of information and for some it’s a lack of initiative. If I was in Albuquerque I couldn’t say there was a lack of information, but being in a small town there is a lack of information.”
Clovis Community College also is expected to take part in a similar program, Moore said.
Getting young people registered to vote is especially important in a swing state like New Mexico.
In the 2000 presidential election, which was decided by a little more than 600 votes, less than 25 percent of New Mexico’s registered youth voters made it to the polls. Moore said it’s time that pattern changes.
“I don’t think that young people are apathetic,” he said. “When it comes down to it, they are volunteering at record rates. From my perspective, they care a lot about the issues, but they don’t see the political process affecting them or they don’t see their ability to affect the political process. Parties just don’t go after the young age group. But it’s my feeling that young people have to get out to vote.”
The New Voters Project is trying to make it as easy as possible on young voters to get registered. In fact, they are going to the youth.
Moore said last weekend, his group tried to get people in Albuquerque at the annual Spring Crawl, a downtown bar-hopping festival, to sign up to vote.
They will also be taking their program to movie theaters and concerts.
“We will be going to busy places in town where young people hang out,” he said.
He also said he’s working with chambers of commerce across the state on a program where businesses can register their employees and customers to vote.