With less than three months until a midterm election that could shift control of the House, New Jersey is planning to spend nearly $10 million in federal money it received this spring to strengthen what is widely considered one of the most vulnerable voting systems in the country. But the grant money from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission is a fraction of what’s needed to improve the state’s election infrastructure from the threats federal officials say are being directed at the U.S., leaving New Jersey susceptible to outside influence when it may also serve as a Congressional battleground. While election officials across the state remain confident that hacking or voting fraud is unlikely — or at least detectable — the 2016 presidential election showed that outside forces are constantly coming up with novel ways to infiltrate the country’s election systems and disrupt one of the most sacred rituals of democracy. “It’s very likely we’ll be susceptible to hacking,” said Aquene Freechild, co-director of a voting campaign for Public Citizen, a liberal nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. “The problem in New Jersey is you wouldn’t know if there was a hack or not.”
… New Jersey is one of only about 10 states that still use electronic voting machines without a paper record. Replacing them all is estimated to cost between $40 million and $63.5 million, according to the Brennan Center. The likely replacement would be optical scan machines that require voters to color in circles next to candidates’ names on a paper ballot, which voters then feed into an electronic scanner. The ballots are stored in a sealed box and can be checked by election officials in the event of an audit or recount.
Through the grant, New Jersey plans to develop a pilot program to lease or buy “a small number of voting systems” with a paper trail “in small jurisdictions with a small number of voting systems,” according to the state.
Deploying new paper-based machines will also allow New Jersey to take advantage of a post-election audit law it has on the books but hasn’t used because there haven’t been any paper ballots to audit.