Judiciary Committee hears testimony on voting security

Stephanie Harris said twice her ballots were not counted. Once in 2004, her vote didn’t register.

“I was advised to redo that. I redid it three times and the poll worker shrugged and said, ‘Well, I think it cast that time,'” said Harris,  who chairs Coalition for Peace Action‘s Voting Integrity Task Force.

Harris said she learned to vote by paper, using a mail-in ballot as she did in the June primary. But two months later, she got a letter.

“My vote was not counted because it was found a month late in a stack of mail in the Hamilton, New Jersey post office,” said Harris.

Former Cumberland Regional School Board member Cindy Zirkle said it was expensive to challenge and reverse what happened to her in a 2011 Democrat committee race and her school board candidacy in 1982.

“The back of the machine had a paper trail and it was obvious that our names had been reversed on the ballot,” said Zirkle.

Zirkle and Harris were among the speakers urging the state Assembly Judiciary Committee to make voting more secure and accurate in New Jersey. More than a decade ago, lawmakers approved creating a paper trail of voting, but no money has been committed to enact the law. Here’s the result.

“In this area, we are woefully behind, being only one of five states without a verified paper record produced in our elections from our machines,” said Assemblywoman Elizabeth Maher Muoio.

Muoio sponsored a bill to require new voting machines that produce a paper record of each vote.

“Right now, how do you even prove that a machine had a problem in an election?” said Muoio.

Princeton University computer science professor Andrew Appel favors paper ballots. In a recent court case, he demonstrated how many of the state’s voting machines — even ones not connected to the Internet — can be hacked. He was able to do it in about seven minutes on the type of machine used in 18 of New Jersey’s 21 counties. Appel told the committee Zirkle was able to reverse the ballot box shenanigans in 2011 by getting affidavits of the few dozen who voted.

“If we had had voter-marked paper ballots, right, and if the OpScan computers had been hacked or made a mistake and if you weren’t sure how the election should have turned out, you wouldn’t need affidavits from all the voters,” said Appel. “You could recount those paper ballots by hand and see what the voters marked on them. And that’s sort of the fail-safe — you have with voter-marked paper ballots.”

Some New Jersey election officials take issue with Appel’s assessment that some of the current machines could be hacked.

“We strongly disagree with any theory, argument or belief that falsely alleges that the voting machines currently in use are hackable and unsecure, and undermines the credibility or faith the public has in the electoral process. To be clear, we are very supportive of the theories and many of the provisions of this legislation,” said Shona Mack-Pollock, deputy superintendent of elections in Passaic County.

Warren County is the only one in New Jersey with paper ballot backups.

“None of us want to see an election taken from anyone. Whether we win or lose, it should be a fair process,” said Assemblyman John DiMaio, who represents Warren County.

But Appel said even machines that produce paper ballots can be hacked and tampered with by removing the security seal. Maybe not the day of the election, but at some point to distort the results and the will of the people.

Coalition for Peace Action Executive Director Rev. Robert Moore argued something needs to be done.”This is not a partisan issue at all. This is about the integrity of our democracy.”

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