ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico — More of New Mexico's eligible voters stayed at home than went to the polls in a midterm election that saw Republican Gov. Susana Martinez win re-election and the GOP make historic gains in the Legislature.
Voter turnout dropped sharply in Tuesday's general election, with only about 512,000 voters casting ballots, according to unofficial returns from the secretary of state's office. That's about 40 percent of the state's registered voters and would represent the lowest rate of voter participation in decades.
Turnout will climb somewhat once final official returns become available later this month.
Four years ago, when Martinez first won election, 607,700 votes were cast — a record number of ballots for a gubernatorial election year. That represented about 53 percent of registered voters.
Albuquerque pollster Brian Sanderoff said Wednesday that more voters went to the polls four years ago because there were several high profile competitive races — for governor and congressional seats.
This year, in contrast, Democrats lacked the same enthusiasm for their lineup of candidates, he said. Polls showed Martinez leading throughout her race against Democratic challenger Gary King. The most competitive races were for lower-profile offices further down the ballot — secretary of state, land commissioner and localized legislative contests. A flood of hard-hitting attack ads also may have depressed turnout by frustrating voters and causing them to tune out the election.
"All the ingredients were there for low turnout — and it happened," Sanderoff said.
Far fewer voters go to the polls in midterm elections historically than when a president is selected. In 2008, about 70 percent of registered voters — roughly 833,000 — cast ballots when Democrat Barack Obama won the presidency.
The most recent low point for balloting in a gubernatorial election came in 2002, when there were nearly 504,000 total votes for a turnout rate of 53 percent. In 2006, turnout was about 52 percent and 568,000 votes were cast.
From the 1960s through mid-1990s, turnout ranged from about 60 percent to a high of 74 percent. However, a historical comparison to modern turnout rates is skewed by changes in law that have swelled registration rolls by making it more convenient to become an eligible voter and more difficult to purge inactive voters.
Although Martinez won re-election with a record percentage margin for a GOP governor, about 32,000 fewer New Mexicans voted for her than four years ago. Martinez received 57 percent of the vote to 43 percent for King, according to unofficial returns. In 1998, then-GOP Gov. Gary Johnson won re-election with 55 percent of the vote.
In Tuesday's election, the GOP picked up enough seats to win a majority in the state House for the first time in 60 years.