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Voter turnout at 25% in NM primary election

Barry Massey

Voter turnout in New Mexico's primary election was below average, with only one in four eligible Democratic and Republican voters casting ballots despite hotly contested races scattered across the state.

About 234,000 registered voters participated in Tuesday's election, according to unofficial returns for the U.S. Senate races for both parties. About 25 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of Republicans cast ballots.

Turnout has averaged 28 percent in presidential election year primaries in New Mexico since 1996.

This year's preliminary voter participation rate is much lower than in 2008 when turnout was 31 percent and 274,000 GOP and Democratic registered voters cast ballots. There was no Democratic presidential contest in the June 2008 primary because New Mexico held a presidential preference caucus earlier that year. However, the primary featured very competitive races for all three of New Mexico's congressional seats because the incumbents ran for an open Senate seat.

In the 2010 gubernatorial primary election, voter turnout was 28 percent and nearly 259,000 Democrats and Republicans cast ballots.

Typically, a high-profile or hotly contested race draws voters to the polls and that appeared to happen in some portions of the state this year.

Turnout was 35 percent for Republicans in Curry County, where there was a hard-hitting state Senate race that featured two Republicans, including one backed by Gov. Susana Martinez. Only 16 percent of Curry County Democrats cast ballots, however. The Senate district also included Union County, which had 37 percent GOP turnout, and parts of Quay County, with 39 percent Republican turnout.

Mora County had among the highest turnout rates in the state _ 53 percent for Democrats. That could reflect interest in the U.S. Senate race as well as competitive legislative races. One of the Democratic Senate candidates, state Auditor Hector Balderas grew up in Mora County in the tiny community of Wagon Mound. Balderas overwhelmingly carried the county but lost the statewide race to Rep. Martin Heinrich.

Turnout was low in the Albuquerque area despite a number of competitive races for the Legislature and a three-way battle for the Democratic nomination in the 1st Congressional District. Bernalillo County, the largest in the state, is home to a third of New Mexico's Democratic and GOP voters.

Only seven counties had lower a voter turnout rate than Bernalillo County, where about 23 percent of Democratic and Republicans voters cast ballots.

"To increase turnout you need two things. You need a great organization to get them out to vote but you need some voters who are excited about doing it. So the best organizations in the world can't pull the voters out unless the voters care about some particular race," Brian Sanderoff, an Albuquerque pollster, said Thursday.

"It seems like despite the fact that the congressional race in Albuquerque had good field operations, they identified their supporters, they went to their homes, they called them on the phone, the voters evidently were just not inspired enough to get out there and vote."

Neighboring counties in the Albuquerque area _ Sandoval and Valencia counties _ also had low voter turnout at 22 percent.

Dona Ana County, the second largest in the state, had the lowest turnout at 15 percent. Harding County, the smallest in the state, had the best turnout at 56 percent.

The turnout percentage statewide is likely to increase when final vote totals become available later this month and they're certified by the state canvassing board. Provisional ballots and some others are not counted on Election Day, are not reflected in the unofficial results. The

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Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP

The Associated Press