As New Jersey voters lined up on Tuesday, they were given a disposable, rubber-tipped stylus to electronically sign their names before voting.
Signing the poll book is an election day exercise that in the past involved thick volumes of scribbled signatures to track one’s participation in democracy over the years – while also serving to verify someone’s identity. a. But this year the process was a little different.
And it was not without problems.
For the first time, counties were using electronic poll books instead of paper books – a change brought about by the move to advance voting in the state.
The electronic system, which updates the state’s voter database in real time, registers all eligible voters for each polling station. It’s intended to prevent someone from voting in multiple locations or on different days, officials said, making it possible to offer early voting with safeguards meant to flag those who attempt to vote more than once. .
But at a number of polling stations, election officials had problems connecting via the Internet to the state’s database, resulting in long queues in some places, and voters even been turned away from others.
In Bernardsville, a voter said the new machines in District 7 had failed and voters had been turned away. In Raritan Township, a poll worker pulled out the manual while trying to help a voter register. In Hillsborough, another voter said the people in line finally walked away. And at the Christopher Hope Community Center in Paterson, voters were unable to vote for an hour after the polls opened at 6 a.m.
Alicia D’Alessandro, spokesperson for the State Elections Division, said the problems were isolated and most of the state’s approximately 3,400 polling stations had no problems.
“We know there have been a small number of cases,” she said.
Technical issues aside, a year after the last election was mostly by mail ballot, Hunterdon County Election Supervisor Beth Thompson said some voters showed up at her office unaware that the offices polls were open this year.
Some of them, she said, were asking why they hadn’t received mail-in ballots.
“Generally speaking, there is a lot of confusion among voters,” she said.
During the day, the county had some issues with e-books. Two of the so-called electronic poll books in different locations were due to be restarted, Thompson said. But she noted that each place has two books, so at no time has any place been unable to deal with voters.
In a few cases, poll workers ran the electronic survey books on battery power, which only took about two hours.
According to Thompson, a surveillance team at her office was able to see when the polling books were loading and in a few cases contacted polling stations to make sure the devices were plugged into wall outlets.
“The issues we had with the setup were because everything was brand new,” she said. “It’s new for the whole state. There is a learning curve.
In Essex County, voters not only had electronic voting books to sign, but also found themselves without traditional voting machines, which had their own learning curve.
County Clerk Christopher Durkin said Essex purchased Dominion optical reader voting machines in late 2019 to replace its old Sequoia AVC push-button electronic voting machines, which Essex had been using since 2006.
“Obviously, 2020 has been an election year based entirely on postal voting,” he said. The new system requires a voter to fill in a circle under a candidate’s name with a marker on a paper ballot which is then inserted by the voter into an optical scanner.
Durkin said election officials, as well as Essex County Commissioners, believed that human-marked paper ballots “would better reflect voter intent.”
Essex is the only county in New Jersey where voters mark their paper ballots. Other counties use a system where voters use an electronic push-button machine to make their choices. The system then prints their votes on a paper ballot that is recorded.
Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset and Union counties, for example, all use new ExpressXL voting machines as well as electronic voting records. Voters register on electronic registers, as in other counties, and then receive a voting authorization slip and ballot activation card for the voting machine, touching a screen to make choices .
Although there were shortages of poll workers on election day, D’Alessandro said “we don’t think this contributed to general problems”.
The new voting technology also presented challenges in Gloucester County, where Election Superintendent Stephanie Salvatore admitted there had been some problems, stating: “Operator error, not operator error. ‘equipment”.
“The truth is, we have brand new voting machines and brand new electronic voting books, and we have election officials who have never seen them,” she said.
She said that in some cases the poll workers loaded the paper upside down. In other cases, because workers could not synchronize the polls, voters received provisional ballots. Most of these issues, she said, were addressed within the first hour of opening the polls.
“Even though we trained them, I think they panicked a bit this morning,” she said of some of the poll workers.
Gloucester County voter Nicole Johnson of Franklinville said that by voting around 8:15 a.m. the machine spat out her ballot rather than accepting it. Salvatore said this happens if a ballot is spoiled or if it is a provisional ballot. But Johnson said she was not told she was voting on a provisional ballot.
Instead, a worker told him to leave with his ballot and come back later. She contacted the campaign of gubernatorial challenger Jack Ciattarelli, who asked an election lawyer to recall her.
Ciattarelli’s campaign has not commented on the record about the incident or whether it has responded to other calls regarding voter irregularities. Gov. Phil Murphy’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
When Johnson returned later that morning, she was able to place her ballot in the provisional ballot box, which still had the security seal on the ballot slot.
“It’s the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard,” Salvatore said. “No no, you are not giving the ballot to the voter to take with him.”
Salvatore said his office had filed about 25 complaints by early Tuesday evening, against more than 51,000 votes cast.
“I kind of think it’s a success, as bad as I thought it would be with any new equipment,” she said. “There are things that we have to sort out with training. Training is the problem.
An operator error kept a number of polling stations in Cumberland County closed early Tuesday because election officials were not there to open the doors, according to Clerk Celeste Riley.
His office posted a notice on its website saying it was not responsible for polling locations – that’s the job of the election board, which did not return a call for comment.
There were, however, a few equipment issues in Bergen County, which used old machinery for this election before starting to phase them out.
Some of the green Xs that indicated a voter made a selection were not lighting up, Election Supervisor Debbie Francica said. Her office dispatched technicians to make sure the machines were working properly and election officials gave voters special instructions to apply more pressure, she said.
“There was no faulty machine,” Francica said.
One voter, a 30-year-old Saddle Brook resident who asked not to be identified to keep their selections anonymous, said the Ciattarelli button had not lit. The voter was allowed to vote on another machine.
“Whenever the poll worker was in doubt, they issued a provisional ballot,” Francica said. “No one has been deprived of their rights. “
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Josh Solomon can be reached at [email protected].