AG: State will miss e-voting machine deadline



Associated Press Writer

11:56 AM EDT, September 13, 2007




The state says it will miss a Jan. 1 deadline to retrofit 11,000 electronic voting machines with backup paper ballots.


Attorney General Anne Milgram said Thursday she would ask the Legislature to extend the deadline so that the technology would be in place for the June primary.


However, voters in the New Jersey presidential primary _ which lawmakers moved up to Feb. 5 to make the state a bigger player in the 2008 presidential race _ will not have a paper trail to accompany their electronic votes.


"The machines we're using now we've used for years and we've had safe and fair elections," said Milgram. "What backup paper ballots give voters is the assurance that the machine has correctly identified with who they voted for."


Fearing the state would miss the deadline imposed by the Legislature, Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg ordered an alternative voting plan be submitted by Thursday.


She will hear arguments Monday.


Penny Venetis of the Rutgers Constitutional Litigation Clinic said she argues in opposition papers that the state is wasting its money on a flawed voting system.


The clinic sued the state in 2004 to try to scrap electronic voting machines and replace them with optical scanners _ paper ballots that are scanned into a machine by a poll worker after being filled out like an SAT test by a voter.


"That's outrageous," Venetis said Thursday, when told the state would ask for more time. "They presented evidence to the court in March 2006 that specifically said they would not seek an extension. If they do that, we will immediately file an order to show cause."


Venetis said optical scanners are more reliable and cost effective than electronic voting machines. She said New Mexico, Florida and Maryland have scrapped their electronic voting systems and Connecticut went straight to optical scanners rather than use so-called e-voting.


Under New Jersey law, all electronic voting machines must produce individual permanent paper records for each vote by Jan. 1.


Scientists at the New Jersey Institute of Technology found flaws with printers in all three voting machine types it recently tested, and Milgram refused to certify the machines until the problems are fixed and the machines can be retested. Problems ranged from printers running out of paper too quickly; printer cables deemed prone to tampering; and problems with the machines' ability to alert poll workers to malfunctions.


The state commissioned NJIT's Center for Information Technology in Newark to perform the tests after voters' rights groups filed suit challenging the integrity of the machines.


Milgram said she considered several options, including renting optical scanners for the Feb. 5 primary, and decided the only viable one was to seek an extension.


"You can't rush the testing and training," she said. "This is a big investment by the state _ $20 million to $30 million dollars. We thought we should do this once and we should do it right."


But Venetis wondered why it was taking so long.


"This legislation was passed 2{ years ago," she said. "There are other states that went to a reliable system and implemented their system in a lot less time."


Copyright 2007, The Associated Press