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How Should New Jersey Strengthen Its Election Security?

Some experts believe New Jersey, which is considered one of the least secure states in regard to voting, should invest in paper trails, but the solution could cost between $60 million and $80 million.

Voting booth
(TNS) — After President Donald Trump and his Republican allies singled out Georgia and Arizona in falsely claiming that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, both states recounted their votes and found no significant problems.

That’s not so easy to do in New Jersey after each election. It’s one of just six states that do not require a paper trail that allows election officials to check that voting machines were not hacked and the results not tampered with.

“New Jersey is increasingly behind the curve here,” said Mark Lindeman, acting co-director of Verified Voting, a national nonprofit election verification organization.

While New Jersey could do an audit last year because so many ballots were cast by mail, that was a one-shot deal due to the coronavirus pandemic. Going forward, the Garden State will remain an outlier unless the state comes up with the estimated $60 million to $80 million needed to replace county voting machines.

“That’s totally the problem,” said Eileen Kean, a Monmouth County elections commissioner. “It’s really a very, very expensive undertaking.”

Voting experts said that a paper trail will do more for election security than all of the voting restrictions being enacted by Republican state legislatures, including both Georgia and Arizona.

The new laws focus on voter identification to curb in-person ballot fraud, which studies have shown is virtually non-existent, or making it harder to vote by mail despite an election that Trump administration officials said was the most secure in history even with expanded absentee voting.

Through March 24, legislators in 47 states have introduced 361 bills seeking to restrict voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. Nine of those bills were proposed in New Jersey.

This follows an election in which Trump falsely claimed voter fraud, a majority of House Republicans voted to reject state-certified electoral votes, and supporters of the former president stormed the Capitol Jan. 6 in a failed attempt to stop the congressional counting that would make Joe Biden the next U.S. president.

The paper trails allowed election officials in disputed states to disprove evidence-free charges that ballots were cast illegally, machines were programmed to switch votes from one candidate to another, and systems were hacked.

“Paper ballots are a foundational election security measure,” said Liz Howard, senior counsel at the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “In the event that you have any questions about the election, so long as you have paper ballots, you can always go back to the original record.”

New Jersey is the only Democratic state among the holdouts. The others are Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas, according to Verified Voting. In addition, some machines accessible for people with disabilities in Kansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma, do not have paper trails, the group said.

The state’s vulnerability to hacking because of the lack of a paper trail was highlighted in 2018 by Democratic members of the House Administration Committee. The report named New Jersey as one of the five least secure states when it came to voting.

So far, only five New Jersey counties — Essex, Middlesex, Salem, Union and Warren — have machines with paper trails.

Other county officials haven’t seen problems with the current machines, said John Donnadio, executive director of the New Jersey Association of Counties.

“Some clerks and board of elections officials stand by the electronic process and believe it’s safe and secure and accurate,” Donnadio said. “For now, it’s up to each individual county to determine what’s in the best interests of their constituents.”

“If the states wanted the counties to go with a paper trail, they could tell us to do it and they could go and fund it,” he said.

That’s what Assemblyman Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, wants to do. He is a lead sponsor of legislation (A291) to require counties to replace their voting machines and buy equipment with paper trails.

“You always need backup,” said Mazzeo, chair of the Assembly State and Local Government Committee. “The best way to have a safe, secure election process is to have a paper trail.”

While Mazzeo’s bill languishes, the state is funding new equipment needed for expanded in-person early voting. Those machines will have paper trails.

Without more money, Mazzeo acknowledged that his bill isn’t going to pass, despite the need to act following the 2020 election. He suggested some of the $6.4 billion the state is receiving under the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus law could be spent on new secure voting machines.

“The urgency has been moved up,” he said. “We’re definitely about getting this done sooner than later.”

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.