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Lawsuit Targets Electronic Voting Machines

Matthew Hersh

With only six days remaining before next Tuesday's presidential election, a state superior court judge will hear a case put together by a group of local legislators and residents in an attempt to curb the use of New Jersey's new electronic voting machines.

Citing past malfunctions in the machines manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Princeton Borough), a plaintiff in the suit, said safeguards may have been overlooked in the state's efforts to put in new voting equipment.

"There's greater scrutiny of slot machine requirements than those for the voting machines," Mr. Gusciora said Monday at a news conference in Trenton.

The Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA) and Mr. Gusciora are among the litigants in the case brought about through the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic.

The suit aims to block the use of about 8,000 voting machines, and advocates the use of paper ballots in their stead. The primary grievance with the new system is the lack of a sufficient paper trail after voting, Mr. Gusciora said, adding that about a quarter of New Jersey's voters are slated to use the electronic machines next Tuesday.

"There have been widespread reports of problems with the electronic voting booths from California to Florida to Pennsylvania and there have been plenty of anecdotes that could demonstrate that the results could be tampered with."

Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg heard the case yesterday and is expected to release her decision this week.

Other plaintiffs in the case include Stephanie Harris and Glenn Cantor. Both New Jersey residents are claiming they have had malfunctions at the voting booth: Ms. Harris in the presidential primary vote in June; and Mr. Cantor in his Hopewell Valley Regional School District election.

"When I went to vote, I did everything I was supposed to do and the poll worker told me my vote had not been counted and that I was supposd to go back and press the button a second time. I did this a total of four times," said Ms. Harris, a Hopewelll resident. After a fourth time trying to cast her vote, she said the poll worker offered a less-than-assured claim that her vote had been counted.

"I asked him, at the end of the day when they have to reconcile the number of voters with the number of votes, and he said 'well, I don't know.' I left without knowing if my vote had been counted."

Mr. Cantor experienced a similar scenario: "When I left the voting booth, something wasn't quite right."

Prof. Andrew Appel, a professor of computer science at Princeton University and a potential witness, said the inherent problem with computer voting machines that do not produce independent records of how an individual votes is that election outcomes rely too heavily on the computer tally.

"If I press a button to vote for one candidate, how do I know that it added to my candidate's total, or to the other candidate's total? It's controlled entirely by the software, and we know that computer software is not perfectly reliable."

The Rev. Robert Moore, executive director of CFPA, said the minor chance of a computer glitch could offset a national election, pointing to Florida in the 2000 presidential election. "We've had legislation introduced at the state and federal level and unfortunately, people have not taken seriously the effects of machine malfunction," he said.

He cited a group of voting-rights advocates that presented more than 20,000 signatures to the state legislature.

About a month ago, the lawsuit was authorized to be filed and was officially filed last Tuesday.

Mr. Gusciora said that while he believes an electronic voting system "should" be accurate, he emphasized a back-up. "Four years ago, the election was about missing chads. This election should not be about missing megabytes."

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