The Star Ledger, New Jersey On-Line

State must come up with plan to replace 10,000 voting machines

by Kevin Coughlin

Wednesday September 05, 2007, 7:38 PM

In July, Attorney General Anne Milgram delivered opening remarks at The NJ National Guard Armory where the New Jersey State Voting Machine Examination Committee held public hearings to examine the proposed voting machines that are currently in use in the state.

New Jersey has eight days to come up with plans to replace 10,000 electronic voting machines used statewide, a judge ruled today.

"This is a crisis," Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg said at a hearing in Trenton.

A state law requires electronic voting machines to be refitted by January with printers, which would ensure accuracy. But printers from three vendors were found deficient this summer in tests by the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the state Attorney General's Office told the judge today that retesting will take at least six more weeks.

"It's getting too close. You need to tell me what the alternatives are," Feinberg told Deputy Attorney General Jason Orlando. She told him to report back to her on Sept. 13, with a hearing to follow on Sept. 17.

Voter rights activists, who since 2004 have waged a legal battle to scrap the touch-screen electronic voting machines, said they will keep pressing for optical scanners, which could count the ballots the old-fashioned way.

"It's time to take a different direction," said Rutgers Law professor Penny Venetis, representing the activists. She said scanners will cost far less than the $40 million per election she estimates it would cost for printers.

She said computer scientists have offered free software for the scanners.

Last month, Feinberg ordered the Attorney General's Office to appear with backup plans today. But Orlando told her the state has been concentrating on details of retesting printers for the Sequoia AVC Advantage, Sequoia AVC Edge and the Avante Vote-Trakker.

Starting Sept 17, Orlando said, NJIT plans to retest the entire printer systems, not just the specific flaws outlined previously. That is to make sure that fixes have not created new problems.

Feinberg praised Attorney General Anne Milgram for requiring such rigorous testing, but was skeptical printers can be approved, and that poll workers can be trained to use them by the January deadline.

Irene Goldman of the Coalition for Peace Action, a plaintiff in the case, hailed the judge's action as a milestone. Yet she chided the attorney general's "cynical disregard for the voter. They were charged by the judge to have a plan B. They should have been prepared today."

Stephanie Harris, the Hopewell farmer whose difficulties casting an electronic ballot sowed the seeds for this case, was beaming after the hearing.

The judge "opened up the proceedings to alternatives which we have been asking to happen since day one," she said.

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