Kane In Your Corner: Could outdated voting machines leave NJ vulnerable to fraud?
When New Jersey voters go to the polls Tuesday, they'll cast their votes on 20-year-old voting machines with no verifiable paper trail. Some voting rights advocates tell Kane In Your Corner that's a combination that could leave the state powerless to conduct an effective audit if something goes wrong.
"I think what's really important is to prove not only to the winners that they won, but to the losers that they lost," says Pamela Smith, president of the nonprofit group Verified Voting. The group favors optically scanned paper ballots, now used in several states, including New York. The ballots can be scanned by machines, but hand-inspected if questions arise.
Smith contends having a verifiable trail is especially important this year, because Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about what he contends is a "rigged system."
New Jersey election director Robert Giles, however, insists the state's current voting machines, primarily comprised of AVC Advantage machines introduced in 1996, have proven to be reliable. "To this date, there's been no evidence of the machines malfunctioning to the extent that there's been an election questioned," Giles says.
Smith questions how the state can be so certain. Without paper copies to audit, she says "you can run the numbers again, but there's no way to be sure the equipment is working correctly."
In 2008, Princeton professor Andrew Appel first raised another concern about New Jersey's voting machines: they can be hacked. Appel demonstrated that by removing a handful of screws and replacing a memory chip, machines could be programmed to enter false results. A judge, however, found the risk of hacking was small. Since the machines are not networked, hackers would have to attack them one at a time. And since each machine is sealed, the state says there would be visible evidence of tampering.
As for the verifiable paper trails, New Jersey lawmakers passed a bill to require them, but implementation was put on hold in 2011 because of lack of funding.