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Vol. LXI, No. 39
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
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Paper Record in Doubt for ’08 Primary

Matthew Hersh

New Jersey voters will not receive a printed record of their vote in the February 2008 primary elections, the state Attorney General Anne Milgram announced this month, leaving some leaders of the fight to implement a paper voting record worrying that a paper trail may not exist for the 2008 general elections as well.

The attorney general’s office, in a September 13 directive, advised Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg to extend a January 1, 2008 deadline to implement legislation that would mandate voter verified paper record systems to be used with electronic voting machines. The law, passed by the state Legislature in 2005, sought to retrofit an estimated 11,000 voting machines with paper ballots, but the Attorney General’s office cited an independent study this summer conducted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology that found flaws in the testing of three machines that are used in 20 of the state’s 21 counties.

Flaws cited include locking mechanisms on the printers, mechanical error messages, time allotted in viewing the paper ballot, printer cartridge seals, and concerns over tampering with power cables.

The move is a significant setback for the litigants involved in a three-year suit filed against the state, claiming that the state’s electronic voting machines were unreliable. The Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) and Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough) are among the litigants in the case brought about through the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic (RCLC).

And while Ms. Milgram said that she would urge the Legislature to extend the January deadline to June, when Congressional and local primary elections will be held, the deadline extension would fall well beyond the February 5 presidential primary, which was moved up from June by the Legislature this year in order for New Jersey voters to play a more influential role in presidential primary elections.

“The only way to ensure the integrity of the February 2008 election is to maintain our current, long-functioning machines while awaiting final certification of direct electronic voting machines paired with voter verified paper record systems,” Ms. Milgram said in a statement.

But for litigants listed in the RCLC suit, the Attorney General’s move is -counterintuitive.

“The state has had three years to meet this mandate, and it hasn’t yet. Why does the Attorney General, not just this Attorney General, but previous Attorney Generals, not have the will to do the right thing?” said Irene Etkin Goldman, steering committee chair for CFPA, which is a lead plaintiff in the RCLC suit. “Why hasn’t the Attorney General’s office encouraged other technologies here?”

Ms. Goldman pointed to the RCLC-favored optical scan voting machines, which have been adopted in California. “We should open the doors and openly broadcast for all technologies to come to New Jersey and be certified,” she said.

“The law was clear,” said the Rev. Robert Moore, CFPA executive director. “Do this and have it ready to go by January 1, 2008, and right now they’re saying ‘we can’t do that.’

“Somebody’s slacking here.”

The Attorney General’s office has rejected moving to an all-paper ballot amid concerns over ballot storage and chain of custody, according to the office’s Web site.

Other plaintiffs in the case include Stephanie Harris and Glenn Cantor. Both New Jersey residents have claimed have experienced malfunctioning machines at the voting booth: Ms. Harris in the presidential primary vote in June 2004; and Mr. Cantor in his 2004 Hopewell Valley Regional School District election.

Assemblyman Gusciora acknowledged that options were limited: “The retrofitted equipment is not available and it doesn’t appear that there are many options here.”

Mr. Gusciora, however, did side with Ms. Milgram in rejecting a return to the paper ballot: “Talk about potential voter fraud.”

NJIT is expected to start a second round of testing paper record systems this month, according to the Attorney General’s office.

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