Incoming Santa Fe County Clerk Katharine Clark, who will helm the office starting in January, plans to embrace new technology and the potential for more people voting by mail even after the pandemic ends.
Following an unprecedented surge in people casting absentee ballots in lieu of voting in person after COVID-19 hit New Mexico, Clark said during an interview Wednesday she wants to make that easier for Santa Fe County residents.
Even if the rollout of COVID-19 vaccine ends the pandemic, “people may prefer to vote that way,” Clark said.
To aid in that potential shift, Clark said she would like to set up a permanent ballot drop box in the county and is even looking into the possibility of one that could immediately read a ballot bar code and send a time-stamped receipt or email to the voter, giving them an extra bit of reassurance.
Clark said she also is considering technology that could send voters a text update notifying them when they drop off a ballot and subsequent texts when the ballot is processed and counted.
The former IT consultant and analytics manager touted her technical expertise during her campaign and vowed to make the County Clerk’s Office more “user friendly.” She beat three other candidates in the Democratic primary and then ran unopposed in the general election during an acrimonious presidential race that took place during a pandemic.
Geraldine Salazar, Santa Fe County’s outgoing top election official, told a U.S. Postal Service official just two business days before the June 2 primary that late delivery of election mail had been a problem in the county for years and was threatening to impede the primary.
A last-minute flood of absentee ballots and problems recruiting enough people to staff polling sites during the primary also led to delays in counting election results in Santa Fe County.
The primary illuminated the “pain points” in the county’s electoral system, which Salazar was adept at resolving, Clark said.
With her background, Clark said she will ensure the office is humming with the latest technology and staffed with people who share “modern ideas of management” and can help make the Clerk’s Office website more transparent and the online payment system easier to use.
With that in mind, Clark said she appointed Jennifer Catechis, a former chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján and former chief financial examiner of insurance at the state Public Regulation Commission, as the office’s chief deputy clerk. She will replace Julia Vargas.
Clark appointed Robert Adams to be Bureau of Elections chief. He will replace Steve Fresquez.
Adams was former deputy county clerk for elections in Bernalillo County and former chief information officer at the New Mexico Human Services Department.
Clark also said she plans to advocate in the upcoming legislative session for lawmakers to make changes outlined in Senate Bill 4 permanent. The law, which passed during the June special legislative session, was meant to streamline the election during the pandemic.
“I’m looking forward to serving as county clerk,” Clark said. “I think there’s been a lot of challenges, but the fact [that] we had such high turnout is really exciting, and my goal is to make sure we maintain high turnout … and I’m always welcome to new ideas from constituents.”