E-Vote: New Jersey Attorney General Denies Voting Machine Certification Until Fixes and Retesting Completed

The committee found the electronic vote, the paper ballot, a bar code and internal memory were in sync. But certain shortcomings needed to be corrected, the committee concluded.

by / August 10, 2007

The New Jersey Voting Machine Examination Committee has rejected immediate certification of voter-verified paper record systems for electronic voting machines in use in 20 of the state's 21 counties, recommending a number of fixes before the machines could be used in elections. The committee said the systems met core criteria, but certain shortcomings needed to be corrected before approval.

Attorney General Anne Milgram accepted the committee's findings, declaring that before certification the voting machine vendors will have to correct problems identified by the committee and scientists at the New Jersey Institute of Technology who independently tested the machines earlier this summer for the attorney general and the Division of Elections.

In addition, the attorney general said the equipment will have to be retested by NJIT after changes are made. "I agree with the examination committee's report, and I expect the voting machine companies to follow the committee's recommendations,'' Milgram said. "Any changes made will go back to NJIT for further testing.

"We are fully committed to protecting the integrity of our elections in New Jersey,'' Milgram added. "The public demands full confidence in the process, and we want to ensure a paper trail that is accurate, reliable and can be audited."

The Voting Machine Examination Committee found that the three voting machines tested met the significant core requirement of electronic records in the machine matching the paper records, and said the machines, in general, are suitable for use in elections. The committee found the electronic vote, the paper ballot, a bar code and internal memory were in sync. But certain shortcomings needed to be corrected, the committee concluded.

The three machines tested by NJIT and assessed by the Voting Machine Examination Committee were the Sequoia Advantage, which is used by 18 counties, the Sequoia Edge, which is used in Salem County, and the Avante Vote Trakker, which is used in Warren County. (NJIT has begun testing the ES&S machine used in Sussex County.)

The Voting Machine Examination Committee held hearings for three days in July to listen to testimony from the NJIT scientists, voting machine vendors and members of the public. The three member examination committee is headed by Richard C. Woodbridge, a patent attorney from Princeton. The other members are Darryl Mahoney, an assistant director for the voting machine division of the Bergen County Superintendent of Elections, and John Fleming, a management information specialist in the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety.

The committee cited 10 problems with the Sequoia Advantage machine, including the fact the printers needed to be sealed with locking mechanisms and the mechanical error messages were not specific enough if, for example, there is a paper jam. The committee also said there was too little time for a voter to verify his or her vote on the third and final ballot. (The voter verified paper record systems allow voters to recast ballots up to three times if they find they have miscast a vote, or failed to cast a ballot for a particular office or missed a ballot question.)

Among the problems cited with the Sequoia Edge machine were power and data cables that were not shielded to guard against tampering. The committee also recommended that each printer cartridge have a seal that can only be broken after an election. As with the Advantage machine, the committee said there may not be enough time for a voter to verify his or her selections on the third paper record.

For the Avante Vote Trakker, the committee said the storage unit on some machines needed to be replaced or repaired so that unauthorized paper cannot be slipped into

the storage unit. The committee also said the voter-verified paper record system needed to be equipped with a warning system to notify polling officials when there is a malfunction, and voting operations should be suspended if there is a disconnect between the voting machine and the printer.

In May, the Attorney General's Office contracted with NJIT's Center for Information Technology in Newark to test the systems that produce paper records that can be verified by voters before casting their ballots. It was the first time in the state's history that the state has directly contracted with computer experts to conduct independent testing as part of a certification process. Prior to the agreement, the state relied on reports from national independent testing authorities.

New Jersey law requires that all electronic voting machines produce individual permanent paper records for each vote cast no later than Jan. 1, 2008. The paper record will be the ballot of record in the event of recounts, according to the state's law.

Direct electronic voting machines with voter-verified paper record systems include printers and a display unit that allows voters to view their votes before recording their electronic ballots. No vote will be recorded until the paper record is viewed and approved by the voter. If a voter rejects the contents of the paper record, he or she may recast a ballot up to two additional times.

The paper receipts must be stored securely in the machine. Voters do not leave the voting booths with copies of their votes, and the paper receipts will not identify voters.