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(Photo by E.J. Greenblat)

FINDING ANSWERS: Mercer County freeholders, from left, Anthony Carabelli and Keith Hamilton spoke to residents on issues such as the new electronic voting system, which has been debated heavily in recent months. The freeholders spoke to residents at the PCDO's meet-the-candidates night.
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State Democratic Candidates Speak On Electronic Voting, Budget Cuts

Candace Braun

The Princeton Community Democratic Organization recently held a meet-the-candidates night for New Jersey Democratic candidates that are up for re-election in November.

Candidates in attendance on Sunday, February 29, were incumbents Representative Rush Holt, who currently represents the 12th District of New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Anthony Carabelli and Keith Hamilton, county-level legislators for Mercer County.

In his speech to residents, Rep. Holt said that the upcoming election is looking positive for the Democratic Party, citing a current lead of six or eight points in most national polls for the primary elections.

He said part of the reason for this is that "things are such a mess and people are beginning to see it," citing the cut in benefits to veterans.

"Budget deficits are so serious that they're cutting back on veteran benefits," he said.

The president's budget proposals for the 2005 fiscal year falls $1.2 billion short of the amount requested by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Rep. Holt said that some veterans that have previously received aid are no longer eligible, or have been put on a wait list.

"The veterans groups know this," said Rep. Holt. "They know they're short [funds] and they know who to blame."

Another platform the congressman spoke on was getting help for small businesses, who also recently experienced a cut in benefits. Rep. Holt said that if he is re-elected, he will push to help small businesses from going wayside.

Among topics discussed by the candidates and residents was the use of electronic voting equipment, which provoked a conversation debating the reliability of the new machines and the possibility of a miscount during an election.

"We may not have a paper trail for this election," said Mr. Hamilton.

"Electronic voting equipment does not allow voters to inspect individual permanent records of their ballots, fails to provide a means by which a meaningful recount may be conducted, [and] uses software that is not open to public scrutiny," reads a statement on www.verified voting.org, a website linked to Rep. Holt's official website.

Both Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Carabelli assured audience members that the part of the program that does the vote counting is tamper proof.

"[The voting machines] have been tested, they've been qualified, and quantified by the state," said Mr. Hamilton.

Mr. Carabelli assured residents that a paper trail will be instituted in the voting process as soon as possible, and the freeholders are confident that until that time the electronic machines will do their job.

"We all feel the most important thing in our democracy is the ability to vote," said Mr. Carabelli.

Electronic voting machines will be used in the Princeton Regional School Board elections in April, and Mr. Hamilton encouraged residents to inspect the machines for themselves at that point in time.

A possible loss in funds from the state for Section 8, which helps low-income families with monthly rent, was also a concern listed by the freeholders.

Roger Martindell, a member of Borough Council, questioned the effect this would have on Princeton housing organizations, such as the Princeton Housing Authority, and Princeton Community Housing.

"What can we do to keep those funds coming?" asked Mr. Martindell.

Mr. Hamilton suggested writing a letter to the state to appeal for these funds. He said that the money has not been taken away yet, however, "it looms in the distance."

The PCDO, founded in 1965, meets regularly to endorse candidates for state, local, and national offices. A meet-the-candidates night for local candidates for the June primary will be held in the near future.

First elected into his position in 1998, Rep. Holt has no Democratic opponent, and currently has one Republican opponent for the November election, Bill Spadea, according to Rep. Holt's campaign office.

PCDO moved to endorse all three candidates in the upcoming election at the conclusion of the meeting.

For more information, visit www.princetondems.org, or call (609) 924-9845.

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