Voting rights lawyers said today some of New Jersey’s digital voting machines must be replaced because they are vulnerable to hackers who could change the outcome of elections. “We are in a state that values and prizes the right to vote,” Penny Venetis, a law professor at Rutgers University-Newark, told a three-judge appeals court panel in Trenton. “We believe that this court should review the record anew and look at the science very carefully.” Continuing a fight that has lasted nearly a decade, Venetis wants the appeals court to overrule a lower court judge who allowed counties across New Jersey to continue using the computerized voting systems. Venetis said the systems leave no paper trail, complicating recounts in any instance where fraud or mistakes happen. She said it would not be difficult for a computer hacker to gain access to a machine and change its software to register votes for one candidate over another. “You can press what you think is candidate A’s button and it registers a vote for candidate B,” she said. But the state argued that there is no perfect system, paperless machines do not present “a severe restriction on the right to vote” and replacing the equipment will simply cost too much.
Lawmakers in 2005 approved legislation requiring such changes, but later put those upgrades on hold amid budget woes in 2009. Nothing has changed since, Assistant Attorney General Donna Kelly told the panel.
“We didn’t have the $19 million to implement it,” Kelly said. “That’s where we stand now.”
The lawsuit, first filed in 2004 by Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Mercer), the Coalition for Peace Action and others, has dragged on for years.
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The majority of voting machines used in New Jersey are touch-screen computers manufactured by Sequoia Voting Systems. The terminals record votes in four different locations — including backup cartridges — but create no paper trail, lawyers said.
Because of the case, Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg, sitting in Mercer County, ordered a qualified panel of experts to determine whether the 11,000 voting machines are “accurate and reliable.”
The judge said in the 2010 ruling that voting machines and vote tally transmitting systems must be disconnected from the internet; all people who work with them and third-party vendors who examine or transport the machines must undergo criminal background checks; and the state must put in place a protocol for inspecting voting machines to ensure they have not been tampered with.
She did not, however, do the key thing those pressing the lawsuit are still asking for: Require all voter machines to produce a voter-verified paper ballot, as the 2005 law required.