County clerk discusses election duties

Roosevelt County Clerk Janet Collins said many voters think election night in November is their busiest day.

Christina Calloway: Portales News-Tribune

Deputy clerk DeAun Griffin helps a resident with early voting. She has been working in the county clerk's office for four years.

Although Collins agrees, she said most voters don't realize the preparation her office undergoes before an election can take up to one year.

"The election process is really a lot longer than you think," Collins said.

For the 2012 election, Collins has been preparing since October. Of the 20 years she's worked in the county clerk's office, eight as the county clerk, Collins says she has conquered the election process but it's no easy feat.

She understands what the job requires of her, but the pressure and responsibility of getting elections right is enormous, even in a county of about 20,000.

Who votes?

"It's my job to decide who gets to vote," Collins said. By this, Collins means she has to figure out who can legally vote and what district they will vote in. Roosevelt County has three state legislative districts.

She says the recent redistricting has made the process challenging, causing the election process to start later than usual.

She has to hand-check all of the voter registration cards in addition to checking the court records for felons and obituaries for people who passed away.

Mastering the election process

Collins started working elections by putting supplies in the ballot boxes for precincts.

"I got to see the mechanics of voting," Collins said. "The more I learned the mechanics, the more I learned about the election."

Collins said she had great predecessors to show her the ropes. Now, her tasks involve figuring what goes on which ballot.

She says most ballot information comes from the state.

Nath Vaca has worked in the county clerk's office for 11 years. Vaca agrees with Collins that preparation work for an election can take quite a toll on the office.

Registering voters, charging batteries for the voting machines and running reports to make sure voting numbers match are just a few of their tasks.

But Vaca doesn't mind helping Collins in making sure the process runs smoothly.

"I'd rather stay busy than not," Vaca said.

New Mexico swings and a recount

Collins says presidential elections have the highest voter turnout at the polls. She said New Mexico was considered a swing state the last two presidential elections.

"When it's going to be a close race, you feel more of an obligation to vote," Collins said about the last two elections. "I was taught that people have a civic duty to vote. I'll never forget that as long as I live."

In the 2000 presidential election, Collins said the county's voting machines had a glitch in the programming and machines did not count straight ticket ballots.

She says because of this, New Mexico gained national attention. Collins said they had to perform a recount.

"That's the beauty of paper ballots," Collins said. "You know what the outcome will be."

The election between George W. Bush and Al Gore was already a controversial one because of the Florida recount.

The Roosevelt County clerk's office tests every voting machine before elections.

Too many precincts

For a county of about 20,000, Roosevelt County had 21 polling places prior to the upcoming election.

For this election, the county clerk's office has decided to have fewer polling places because it's more cost effective.

"I had five polling places in the same building," said Collins about prior elections. "It was ridiculous."

There were are at least three times Collins can think of that less than 10 people voted at the precinct on Eastern New Mexico University's campus.

This year Roosevelt County has five polling places:

  • Memorial Building, 200 E. Seventh St., Portales.
  • Jake Lopez Community Center, 705 E. Lime St., Portales.
  • Floyd Community Center, 1572 N.M. 267, Floyd.
  • Elida Schools, 301 Church St., Elida.
  • Dora Schools, 401 S. Ave. B, Dora.

Farewell from Collins

This election will be Collins' last.

In November the people of Roosevelt County will elect a new county clerk because Collins' term is up.

"I don't think I'm going to miss all the responsibility," Collins joked. "I took my responsibilities seriously. I made it my goal to follow that law as close I could and treat everyone fairly."

Collins says her departure is a bittersweet one.

"What I'm going to miss is serving the public," Collins said. "Issuing a marriage license to kids I've watched grow up or help someone find their grandfather's homestead; those are the things I'll miss."

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