Officials say voters need privacy

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By David Giuliani

Voters had no curtains or makeshift cardboard boxes to hide their ballots as they made their choices in the city election last week, and that has two City Council members concerned.

In previous municipal elections, voters went into booths with curtains. Most state elections now have voters make their choices in mini-cardboard booths.

But last Tuesday, voters went to tables to vote, with it relatively easy for passersby to see their choices. At one poll site, voters were reportedly making their choices at a table next to other voters waiting in line.

“I am concerned,” Councilman Cruz Roybal said. “You have the right to privacy when you vote. If someone is looking over your shoulder, that may influence your vote. They could have had a makeshift cardboard box.”

Councilman Morris Madrid agreed.

“I thought there was a lack of privacy,” he said, adding that it was easy to see how people voted, given the few choices on the ballot.

He also noted that when voters put their ballots into the machine, they were face up, so poll workers could see how they voted.

County Clerk Paul Maez, who handles most elections in San Miguel County other than those for municipalities, said there is no law that governs specifically what type of structures are needed to guard voters’ privacy.

But he said that in the county’s last election in November 2006, poll sites had cardboard booths provided by the state.

James Flores, a spokesman for the secretary of state, which handles elections on a statewide basis, said the state ensures a secret ballot but agreed with Maez that there’s nothing specific in the law on how to guarantee that.

He said that when he voted in a municipal election in another city, the poll site had cardboard booths.

City Clerk CherylAnn Yara, who runs municipal elections, said the city was using new machines for the first time and that they are owned by the county.

“There are a lot of different options for the next election. In any election, we are going to get complaints. We try to look at the next election to see what kinds of improvements we can make,” Yara said.