ABQjournal: Sec. of State Reverses Decision Barring Parties From Monitoring Votes

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Sec. of State Reverses Decision Barring Parties From Monitoring Votes

By Barry Massey
The Associated Press
       SANTA FE   —   The state's three major political parties will be allowed to monitor the secretary of state's office as it checks post-election vote tallies from counties in preparation for the official state canvass.
    Secretary of State Rebecca Vigil-Giron made the announcement Monday, reversing her previous decision to prohibit anyone from monitoring the internal auditing and canvassing by her office.
    Republicans had criticized her decision to prohibit observers.
    Vigil-Giron said she will limit the observers to one from each of the three major political parties   —   Democrats, Republicans and Greens.
    No representatives will be allowed from other political parties, such as the Libertarian and Constitution parties that have presidential candidates on New Mexico's ballot.
    Vigil-Giron said she was open to the news media also observing but emphasized that all news organizations in the state would have to agree on one joint representative. She said her staff performed the work in relatively cramped quarters in a small conference room and individual offices.
    "By increasing the transparency of the process in this way, I am hoping that it will further increase the public's confidence in the integrity of our election system in New Mexico," Vigil-Giron said at a news conference.
    "I am doing this in the spirit of fair elections and to dispel the false idea that our elections are held in secret."
    Last week, Vigil-Giron said that observers potentially could delay or disrupt the work of her staff, who will recheck the vote tallies from counties and use those in preparing the canvass of statewide election returns. The office reviews the county results to ensure there are no mistakes or omissions. Errors in election totals are corrected after consulting with the counties.
    The secretary of state's work can take up to about 10 days after county canvassing is finished.
    The state canvassing board meets Nov. 23 to certify statewide election returns and make them official.
    Vigil-Giron said she changed her mind over the weekend and decided that there should be no delays or disruptions if the number of observers was limited to three.
    The same person from each party must serve as the designated observer throughout the process. The parties must register their observers with the state bureau of elections.
    Vigil-Giron said the observers will not be allowed to talk to her staff or touch any of the election materials, such as tapes from voting machines or tallies of those machine tapes from the county clerks. Questions from observers must be submitted in writing to her office.
    The secretary of state's office does not handle any ballots during its internal auditing and canvassing of county election returns.
    Carol Miller, co-chair of the state Green Party and a coordinator for independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader, said she would serve as an observer, but objected that Vigil-Giron had limited the monitors to the three major parties.
    "I think there should have been one person from each (presidential) campaign just to really make it fair," said Miller. "I am going to watch as carefully for the Constitution Party and the Libertarian Party as I will for any candidate. I see myself not only representing the Green Party but representing the non-corporate parties in the state."