New Jersey to get e-voting paper trail by 2008

New Jersey has passed a new law mandating voter-verifiable paper trails for electronic touchpad voting machines, but election reform advocates in the state are pressing ahead with legal action because the new requirement doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2008.

The measure, signed into law by Acting Gov. Richard J. Codey last week, requires that all e-voting machines used in New Jersey produce a paper record that can instantly be verified by voters to ensure that their votes are properly recorded.

While critics of e-voting are pleased with the law’s goal, they argue that voters should not have to wait until 2008 to be sure their votes are properly tallied.

“That doesn’t protect people for the next two and a half years, and that to me doesn’t seem to be an acceptable state of affairs,” said Matt Zimmerman, a staff attorney for the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the legal battle.

Last October, New Jersey State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora (D-Trenton) filed a lawsuit against the state, challenging the delay. Gusciora was a leader in the fight to approve the measure in the New Jersey legislature.

Penny Venetis, an attorney and professor of law at Rutgers Law School, said the problem is that there will be several key elections in the state before 2008. Venetis helped filed Gusciora’s lawsuit last year through the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Litigation Clinic.

“The 2008 date is problematic because there are no protections for voters between now and 2008,” Venetis said. “State law says every vote should be counted. It doesn’t say they should be counted in three years.”

Spokesmen for Codey and Gusciora could not be reached for comment Friday.

Gusciora’s lawsuit stalled in January when a New Jersey judge dismissed the case, Venetis said. The case is now on appeal before the New Jersey Court of Appeals, but no date has yet been set for oral arguments. Gusciora filed the lawsuit a month before last November’s elections, but a judge ruled that it was too late at that point to challenge the use of the e-voting machines in the election, Zimmerman said.

The delay in implementing the paper trail requirement is most likely designed to give the state’s municipalities enough time to acquire and pay for the new technology, Zimmerman said. That doesn’t help voters, he said. “It’s giving into the [municipalities’] position that they don’t want to have to spend money on new machines” immediately.”

Critics have argued that paper trails are needed with e-voting machines because the machines aren’t reliable enough to ensure the proper tallying of votes as they are cast. They have also asserted that the software operating the machines can be tampered with to affect the outcome of elections.

Supporters and manufacturers of the machines say the units are reliable and cost-effective for communities to use.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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