We are on track for the highest turnout of any election in New Mexico history. 

In the three weeks of early voting, 770,596 New Mexicans cast their vote. Combined, these votes represent 96 percent of all votes in the 2016 election and 93 percent of all votes in the 2008 election, the previous record-breaking year. 

Yet this election is historic for more reasons than just voter turnout. Searchlight New Mexico set out across Albuquerque to ask people how they voted and hear what’s changed for them since 2016. We talked to an 18-year-old couple from the Northeast Heights, both of them voting for the first time, and to an 83-year-old woman from the South Valley who has seen — and voted in — many elections over the course of her life. We heard from Hispanics for Trump and from a local college student who voted for Hillary four years ago. 

We talked to voters from every corner of Albuquerque and asked the same question every time: What has changed since 2016 and how did that affect your vote? 

The interviews have been edited for style and clarity.

Photos by Don J. Usner

Deezbah Church, 20, from northeast Albuquerque, voted for Biden.

Everything changed since 2016, from school to life to work. I was laid off from work. Tuition has gone up at UNM while being online. But every vote counts and the way world is going now, voting is life-changing.

South Valley residents Loretta Glaser, 58, and Maurice Chavez, 61. They voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and again in 2020.

Well, let me tell you why I voted for him again. He wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t afraid to speak clearly to the public and he didn’t make promises he couldn’t keep. He’s done so much for us in the last four years, and that’s why I’m voting for him again. He’s definitely for religious freedom as well, which means a lot to me and my family. 

I’m very happy that I get the opportunity to vote again for Donald Trump. I was born and raised Democrat, but I changed my affiliation back around 1990. I felt like the two parties’ platforms had changed, and so did their foundational values. I think the right to life is one of the biggest issues for me. Donald Trump has the values that I prefer and the values that I’m happy with. I have a small business that I had to shut down for a while, but now we’re going to re-open again. With his financial strategy, I think the economy is going in the right direction.

Glenda Dawson, 69, and her grandson Kenneth Rhodes, 18, both from the South Valley, declined to say who got their vote.

I’m not going to say who I voted for, but I’m a schoolteacher and I get asked that a lot. I tell students that there’s a reason why we have a private ballot, and in some countries it’s not safe to express your political opinion. So I tell students that are old enough – just vote. 

Personally, I feel like I have been a target for what I believe in. But whether it’s my choice or their choice, everyone has a choice and that’s protected by the First Amendment.

Sara Wertz, 26, of northeast Albuquerque, voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016 and Joe Biden in 2020. Jose Barela, 26, also from northeast Albuquerque, voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 and for Joe Biden in 2020.

There’s just a lot of uncertainty. Because of that, this is the first time that I voted early. I hope the election is peaceful, but we all know the tensions are getting worse. 

I feel like since the 2016 election, our country is more divided than ever. I think this is the time that we absolutely need to work together to better our country. But whether it’s the two party system, or other people’s thoughts on what COVID is or isn’t, or the killing of George Floyd, our country is more divided than ever. 

Regardless who wins, it’s going to be a circus. I’m not saying there are going to be massive riots in the streets. I certainly hope not. I don’t want nobody to get hurt. But I can just feel it. Something is going to happen, regardless who wins.

Daniel Espalin, 68, and Jennifer Espalin, 61, from the South Valley voted for Trump in 2016 and again in 2020. Melissa Espalin, 18, voted for the first time, choosing third-party candidate Jo Jorgensen.

Jennifer Espalin:
The last four years were rough, but Trump has done a lot of good things. 

Daniel Espalin:
It’s been better in the last four years. Things have changed. There has been a revelation of politics nationally and that’s been important. Things have improved, and they’ll keep improving if we can get him into office again. 

Melissa Espalin:
It’s hard to say what has all changed in the last four years, but I just think it would be a great change for the country to have a third party president.

Matthew Sanchez, 20, and Vanessa Jiron, 20, both from the city’s northeast.

I think it’s a pivotal moment in the direction the country is going. I’m still unsure of a few things. It’s tough the way that media portrays things about both sides, and then it’s hard to find the good because of all the negative things that are just spewed about both parties. 

I’m just going to trust my gut and what I believe in.

Dillon Bergin is a former staff reporter. He has written about immigration and migration, climate change and food for the New Republic and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He was a Fulbright Germany Journalism...