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New Jersey: Voting Machine Discrepancies Leave Questionable Results PDF  | Print |  Email
By Verified Voting Foundation   
February 21, 2008
Discrepancies in the results reported by electronic voting machines in New Jersey's Presidential primary highlight the urgent need for that state—and any other state still using paperless voting machines—to adopt a paper ballot voting system, the Verified Voting Foundation (VVF) said today.

“It's a reminder that it is not possible to depend on software alone in elections,” said VVF president Pamela Smith. The discrepancies involved the political-party turnout reporting. Sequoia Advantage machines in several counties showed different figures between the result tape from the machine and the records of a secondary memory cartridge, for the number of Democratic and Republican voters. Counties were under deadline this week to certify the election results, despite being unable to reconcile or explain the non-matching results. Penny Venetis, a law professor at Rutgers University who represents citizens suing to have the touch screens scrapped, was quoted in yesterday's Star-Ledger, "I realize the clerks are caught in the middle here," she said. "If you can't certify an election, I feel you shouldn't certify it. Period. Why is it that the citizens of this state can't be protected?"

The machines involved do not allow voters to see their choices on paper before casting their votes, and the tallies cannot be audited effectively. New Jersey was supposed to have voter-verified paper records by January of 2008, to meet a new standard passed into law in 2005. But the deadline was pushed back to June and further delays loom, while debate continues about how New Jersey should accomplish the move to verifiable voting. NJ was listed at “high risk” in Verified Voting/Common Cause’s recent report due to its unverifiable systems.

New Jersey could adopt an increasingly popular system of precinct-based optical scanners, in which voters mark paper ballots with a pen or an assistive device for voters with disabilities. The ballots are tallied by an optical scanner, and can be recounted by hand. The state’s plan, however, is to add paper-trail printers to the existing touch screen machines. The printer would show voters a paper record of their votes before the ballot is cast, but proposed printers failed the first round of state testing. “Vendors have to go back to the drawing board, and voters have to wait—yet a better option has been available for years,” said Smith. “It’s sad that a state with both a paper ballot law and an audit law is still conducting high risk elections—and apparently will keep doing so.”

New Mexico abandoned New Jersey’s voting machine model in favor of paper optical scan ballots statewide by 2006. Florida will convert to optical scan by November, and Colorado and Iowa are likely to do the same. New Jersey neighbors Maryland, Virginia and nearly all counties in New York have committed to move to optical scan voting systems going forward. “If New Jersey goes with printers rather than optical scan, it will be the only state in recent history to do so,” said Smith. “Optical scan systems are proven, and used in more jurisdictions nationwide than any other system. Why retrofit aging machines with expensive printers that may not work?”

New Jersey’s Attorney General is now seeking to delay any move to paper until next year. “After these discrepancies, it is impossible to justify delay in adopting paper-based voting systems,” Smith said.
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