The decision followed a hearing of more than two-and-a-half hours that was conducted via video because of coronavirus precautions, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
More than two dozen of the state’s elected officials had proposed the mail-in plan, citing concern for public health, the newspaper reported.
But the court issued a unanimous decision against the plan just before 6 p.m. local time, ruling that state law prohibits them from ordering a mail-in election.
Instead, the justices directed county clerks or the secretary of state to send absentee ballots to all registered voters and encourage them to use those ballots, rather than show up at the polls, the Santa Fe Reporter wrote.
“The relief that is requested is specifically prohibited by New Mexico statute … which says that a mail ballot shall not be delivered by the county clerk to anyone other than the applicant for the ballot,” Chief Justice Judith Nakamura said, according to the Reporter. “That being said, there is no prohibition regarding the secretary of state or county clerk from mailing out an application for an absentee ballot. Under the circumstance of this pandemic it is indisputable that in-person voting poses a substantial health risk to the state of New Mexico and therefore absentee ballot voting is the preferred method.”
Robert Forrestal, left, wears a full face chemical shield to protect against the spread of coronavirus, as he votes Tuesday, April 7, 2020, at the Janesville Mall in Janesville, Wis. (Associated Press)
The mail-in plan had been proposed by 27 of the state’s 33 elected county clerks and Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, the Reporter wrote.
State Republicans saw the court’s ruling as a victory, the report said.
“The court’s refusal to rewrite New Mexico election law — to allow the unsolicited mailing of live ballots as part of an all vote-by-mail (VBM) election — shows the proper respect for the importance of election integrity, even in the face of the challenges posed by COVID-19,” the state GOP said in a statement.
Carter Harrison, an attorney for the state Republican, assured the court that other options were available besides a mail-in election, the Albuquerque Journal reported.
For example, county clerks could seek court approval to dramatically reduce in-person polling locations while launching an information campaign to encourage absentee voting, he said.
Toulouse Oliver said she would comply with the court’s ruling.
“Though the court today did not agree with the proposal put forward by my office and the state’s county clerks for an all-mail primary election in order to protect both the health and the rights of New Mexico voters, voters will still have everything they need to make their voices heard on June 2,” she wrote. “My office will comply with the court’s order and mail absentee ballot applications to all voters registered with a major political party. That’s why it’s important that eligible voters register to vote or update their voter registrations by May 5.”
Ballots must be mailed to overseas and military voters by this Saturday, with election workers hired by April 21, the report said. Early voting at in-person stations is scheduled to begin May 15.