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On Paper, Albuquerque Ballots Likely Less "Hackable"

Voters in Albuquerque will choose the city's next mayor today after the Republican incumbent opted not to seek reelection. (
Voters in Albuquerque will choose the city's next mayor today after the Republican incumbent opted not to seek reelection. (
November 14, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia targeted 21 state voting systems in last year's national election, but New Mexico wasn't one of them. Paper is hard to hack.

New Mexico uses paper ballots for all its elections, and a growing number of states are following suit because of concerns about cybersecurity. Albuquerque voters will mark paper ballots Tuesday to determine a run-off mayoral election.

Lonna Rae Atkeson, director of the Center for the Study of Voting, Elections and Democracy, says changes New Mexico has adopted in the past decade should give voters confidence.

"And there are all kinds of safety features set up in an election to ensure that any particular precinct or vote center is safeguarded," she explains. "That's why you have many poll workers, to make collusion unlikely; that's why you have poll workers of both parties and independents."

Voters are choosing between Democrat Tim Keller and Republican Dan Lewis in the Albuquerque mayor's race. A major issue in this year's election has been the rapidly-increasing crime rate in the city, with car thefts up more than 50 percent in the past year - a figure that tops the nation in per capita auto thefts.

All 33 New Mexico counties now use paper ballots after the New Mexico Legislature approved a law in 2006 requiring them. Ballots are counted with an electronic scanner to create a paper trail that must be stored for nearly two years after most elections.

Wendy Underhill, director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, says New Mexico is ahead of the game when it comes to protecting the fairness of elections.

"One more thing that New Mexico has done - it's explicitly permitted academic and international observers to come and that's a form of transparency you might say," Underhill says.

Albuquerque is one of only 13 municipalities across the country that have implemented a public financing system for both mayoral and councilor offices.

Roz Brown, Public News Service - NM