Cameras, cell phones, video recorders banned from county Elections office

New rules approved recently by the San Juan County Canvassing Board prohibit the use of cameras, cell phones and video recorders in the Elections Office while ballots are being processed or tabulated.

In addition, members of the public can observe ballots being processed or tabulated only from the outer area of the Elections Office, and are prohibited from venturing beyond the door of the processing room.

The restrictions were put in place primarily to address three areas of concern, Auditor Milene Henley said: preventing confidential voter information from being captured on film, such as Social Security and drivers’ license numbers; keeping the processing room free of overcrowding or distractions; and creating an atmosphere in which volunteer election workers and voters aren’t intimidated by cameras.

According to Henley, during the February presidential primary at least two people retreated from the Elections Office — ballots in hand — after seeing cameras on the premises. They cast their ballots only after Elections Supervisor Doris Schaller caught up to the two as they were leaving, she said.

Henley said cameras and video recorders are prohibited in the elections office in seven out of eight counties that replied to a recent mass e-mail inquiry. No. 8 will soon be banning them as well, she said.

Prosecuting Attorney Randy Gaylord said the canvassing board is instituting what had previously been an “unwritten rule” by banning cameras and video equipment from the Elections Office. (The auditor or elections supervisor can grant exceptions, for example, to the media).

“We know that cameras can be intimidating to some people,” Gaylord said. “We need to have an election process that’s open, honest and completely free of intimidation.”

Established by state law, canvassing boards develop policies and procedures involving many of the technical aspects of managing local elections. The board, by state statute, consists of the auditor, the chair of the local legislative body (county council) and the prosecuting attorney, or their designees. Its duties include certifying election results and determining whether questionably-marked ballots are counted.

County Council Chairman Howie Rosenfeld said the decision to support the restrictions was difficult. He was swayed to endorse the ban because of the potential of having confidential information captured on film.

“I’m in favor of having cameras and video recorders there during elections, but not if it’s going to lead to a loss of information that’s supposed to be protected,” Rosenfeld said.

“I think this is the way to go until we have a better set up.”

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