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Passaic replacing its voting machines

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

By ASJYLYN LODER    North Jersey Media Group

Passaic County voters in 2006 will likely have new high-tech voting machines.

The Passaic County freeholders voted 6-0 Tuesday to borrow $1.07 million to buy 650 new voting machines that comply with a federal law passed in 2002. Freeholder Sonia Rosado was absent.

The total cost of the Sequoia AVC Advantage Electronic Voting machines comes to more than $4.9 million. The federal government agreed to pay 75 percent of the cost of buying new voting machines. New Jersey will contribute $3.8 million in federal aid that was provided to help states comply with the Help America Vote Act.

The act requires that machines be adapted for visually impaired voters and produce a paper audit trail, two things the county's current machines cannot do.

The machines must allow voters to see whom they have voted for before casting their ballots, and alert voters if they accidentally voted for two candidates for the same office.

All machines must be accessible to the disabled, and allow for the use of alternative languages to English.

The new machines, which will be available for the April 2006 school board elections, replace the 420 voting machines the county purchased four years ago for $3.2 million.

"Just looking at machines, Sequoias seemed to be the machine that those people who know machines believe are the best machine out there," said County Administrator Anthony DeNova. "I believe 20 out of the 21 counties in New Jersey are using Sequoia."

According to the law, the new machines must be in place no later than Jan. 1, 2006, and must meet all disability access requirements by January 2007.

Rudy Filko, former superintendent of elections, opposed the 2001 purchase of the machines the county currently uses, which are made by Electronic Systems and Software based in Omaha, Neb. Those machines were not in use by any other county and had no record of reliability, Filko said recently.

The machines proved to be unreliable and prone to breakdowns, he said. Filko recommended at the time that the county purchase Sequoia machines.

"In other words, the county wasted $4 million. They couldn't have known about these requirements, because HAVA wasn't in place. But they were the only ones who bought these machines. That's why I recommended against these machines," Filko said.

DeNova said the machines Filko recommended at the time would not be compliant with the new law, either.

"I'm not going to get into hindsight," DeNova said. "You don't know these things when you're buying them. Who can anticipate the law change? At the time, everyone thought they were the best machines available."

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