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Secret ballot compromised in New Mexico and other states

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July 19, 2010

By Kyle Maichle

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico: As New Mexico switched its election reporting method, the new method has raised cause for concern about keeping absentee ballots secret[1].

Joyce Pankey, a retired state worker, found out that the absentee ballot she casted in the June 2010 statewide primary was not secret according to an Associated Press report[1]. The secrecy of absentee ballots is at risk due to a 2003 law allowing the state's lawmakers to look at absentee and early voting trends of a legislative district. The main purpose of the law was to help legislators re-draw the boundaries for the 2010 Census. The law is also part of the state's system requiring election results being reported down to precinct level[1].

New Mexico, along with California and Florida have laws that mandate precinct level reporting. Other states including Colorado, Delaware, and New Jersey have laws implemented by city or county governments that require precinct level reporting. New Mexico's precinct level reporting law allows any individual to use open records to see how a voter casted an absentee ballot[1].

Despite New Mexico implemented a law in 2007 that required more privacy for absentee ballots, a local elections official has taken their grievances to the state's Attorney General. Denise Lamb, who leads the Santa Fe County Bureau of Elections, recently filed a complaint alleging that the Secretary of State failed to carry out its duties to protect the privacy of absentee ballots as mandated by law. Lamb stated: "its a violation of the Constitution. We have the constitutional right to the secret ballot"[1]

With redistricting coming up in the next two years, more states may consider precinct level reporting that is similar to New Mexico. However, it's yet to be seen if the privacy of absentee ballots would be upheld if other states follow New Mexico's lead[1].

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