WESTFIELD, NJ – Candidates on the “ballot” Monday included Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Swamp Thing, as Union County officials showed residents the workings of a new voting machine at the Town Hall.
But this November, voters casting ballots in this undecided town in the hotly contested Seventh Congressional District race for Rep. Leonard Lance’s seat will pick real candidates, on new voting machines.
Union County’s Board of Elections is testing the machines in Westfield before rolling them out countywide. It is New Jersey’s first to have invested in the machines with its purchase of 475 of them, Robert Polidore, voting machine system supervisor for Union County’s Board of Elections, said.
“Not only do you have this paper trail,” Polidore said, referring to a bar-coded printed voting record the demo machine printed at Town Hall, “it has the barcode on it, and in here it saves those images. We can print those as well off of a USB stick.”
If there is a recount, he said, the poll workers can compare printed ballots against printable voter record images, he said. “Everything is stored in random order so you don’t know who cast the ballot,” he said.
The machines will not be connected to the web, where the results will eventually post, he said. “No Russian hackers. Not into this. Not unless they can get into our building downtown, and get into the server, but I think we might notice,” Polidore said.
In a power outage, he said, the machines can last for at least 8 hours on a battery charge.
The machines, which the county purchased from the Nebraska-based Elections Systems & Software for $1.9 million, create a paper trail of the voting record, allow poll workers to upload results with a USB drive and feature large text options, Polidore said.
The machines replace technology the county has been using for 20 years, he said.
Following the November pilot in Westfield, county officials anticipate rolling out the machines to half of its voting districts for the subsequent June primary, and taking the machines live countywide in November of 2019, Polidore said.
Union County is testing the machines in Westfield because the town has no municipal races in November, Polidore said.
Voting by mail has already started in Westfield’s school board race, with six candidates running for three seats on the board.
Resident Lisa Mandelblatt, who took stock of the demo machine, said she anticipates there will be a learning curve with the new technology, but it could prevent an issue she’s seen with the older machines whereby small children voting with their parents hit the “cast -ballot” button before the voting is complete.
Mandelblatt, who was previously a candidate in the district's congressional race before dropping out and endorsing Lance's Democratic challenger, Tom Malinowski, approves of the paper record, which is visible to voters, who place a slip in the machine that prints a list of the candidates voted for.
“We need this backup,” said Mandelblatt, 54. “We need to have this paper trail, which has been missing in New Jersey.”
The Union County rollout starting in Westfield comes as a South Jersey county also mulls using the machines, but is taking a more conservative approach.
“There is another test pilot of the machines that is being done in Gloucester County,” Polidore said. “But they haven’t committed to using them.”
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