Voter-Verified Paper Record Systems and the Impending January 1, Deadline

Pursuant to a New Jersey Statute passed in 2005, by January 1, 2008, every electronic voting machine in New Jersey is required to produce a paper record that will allow voters to verify that their votes were properly recorded. No vote will be recorded until the paper record is viewed and approved by the voter. In the event the voter rejects the contents of the paper record, the voter would be able to recast a ballot up to two additional times. The paper record will be preserved for later use in any manual audit and in the event of a recount, the voter-verified records will be the official count for the election. In order to comply with this statute, the state will be required to purchase and install over 10,000 voting machine printers.
During the Summer of 2007, delegates from the New Jersey Institute of Technology tested three of the printers submitted for consideration to meet the state’s requirements. Reports were issued in July 2007 which highlighted areas of concern. First and foremost, the state requires the system to stop recording records if the paper malfunctions, jams, or the connection between the recording system and printer is lost. When this occurs, the voter will be allowed to vote on a different system or on an emergency paper ballot. However, while the voter may be notified that there is a problem by an error message or otherwise, in most instances they will be able to continue voting. If this occurs, the voter will not have had the opportunity to view a paper record, nor will there even be a paper record to be stored for future use in the event of a manual recount. In addition, unless the voter notifies a poll-worker, no warning signals are sent to notify them. Therefore, it is critical to include a safeguard mechanism which will notify poll workers about problems with the printer, or in the alternative, a locking mechanism to render the machine unusable.

Additionally, a problem common to most of the machines used in New Jersey is that while voters have three opportunities to correct their ballot, on the third opportunity the voter does not have the opportunity to verify the paper record as it prints and then quickly drops into a locked receptacle. Since this is the record which would be used in the event of a manual recount, the inability to view and thus confirm the accuracy of one’s vote is cause for concern.

What remains to be seen is whether the systems can be approved and functional by the January 1, 2008 deadline. The New Jersey Voting Machine Committee had rejected immediate certification of the systems as of August 2007, and had made recommendations to further compliance. Undoubtedly, the voters in New Jersey deserve to have confidence in their voting system and presently voting machines and printers that are dependable, accurate and secure are at the forefront of ensuring confidence.

Nicole E. Russak is an Associate at WJ&L and practices in the Tax, Trusts & Estates and Transactional areas.

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