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Two electronic ballot machines replaced in Montclair during vote  (NJ)

ERICA ZARRA    Montclair Times   07 February 2008

A Hoboken poll worker’s error reportedly delayed Gov. Jon Corzine from casting his ballot in Tuesday’s presidential primary by almost an hour.

The problem was soon rectified and Corzine voted, but the early-morning incident was not isolated to Hoboken.

Technical and human errors occurred in Montclair and throughout the state this week in New Jersey’s first February presidential primary contest.

In Essex County, Superintendent of Elections Carmine Casciano said that 12 out of about 650 Sequoia Advantage electronic voting machines were replaced on Tuesday. Of that amount, four machines were replaced due to Board of Election workers mistakenly turning off the machines and thereby deactivating them.

There were five problems with machines in Montclair. Two Sequoias had to be replaced in Mt. Hebron School and the Walnut Street Firehouse due to electronic errors.

Other technical issues occurred, but Casciano called them “nothing significant” and said technicians soon repaired them.

In addition to machine-related difficulties, Casciano believes that portions of the state experienced problems with the statewide voter registration system, which relies on software separate from the electronic voting machines, and is mandated by the Help America Vote Act.

“It’s causing us all kinds of grief,” Casciano told The Times on Tuesday. “It has arbitrarily changed people’s parties.”

Casciano, who called the system “complicated,” said, “People who had never voted in a primary were now members of parties, and parties were also changed. By checking further into it, we have found no evidence that we think triggered it. So we’re blaming it on the system. A software malfunction.”

In these cases, people had to vote on provisional ballots. Casciano’s office does not yet know how many people voted this way.

The superintendent also said that some voters showed up to polling stations believing they were unaffiliated, when, in fact, they belonged to parties.

“The biggest problem we had was people believing that we had same-day registration in New Jersey,” he said. “Ninety-five percent of complaints we had were people who wanted to vote but who never registered. You have to register 21 days in advance. That tied us up. People were very hot. They wanted to vote.”

An intense situation occurred in St. Luke’s Episcopal Church’s polling station when the button for Republican candidate Mitt Romney did not work on an electronic machine.

Board of Election worker Maxine Pittman-Sabur said that poll workers contacted Essex County officials who sent a technician to the scene. She said that they instructed the poll workers to allow all Democratic voters into the booth, while Republicans could fill out a preliminary ballot.

This did not sit well with a man who blocked the machines for 35 minutes, thus prohibiting other voters from entering the booths, said Pittman-Sabur.

“He said ‘If I can’t vote, then no one can vote,” Pittman-Sabur recalled. “He riled [other voters] up.”

While people were waiting to vote, poll workers distributed tickets with numbers so that there would be an order of voters to enter the machines once the man relented and the machines were fixed. Pittman-Sabur said that some voters waited, while others returned later, and no one voted by provisional ballot.

A woman who witnessed the encounter told The Times, “There was major discussion among everyone who was there and no one who was there believed that the emergency ballots would be counted. We all thought they would be done the same way as with absentee ballots. We don’t count them unless the election is close, and [people feared that] basically it was going to be thrown away, which is not right.”

“I also objected because you loose some of your anonymity,” said the woman, a computer engineer who declined to be identified in print. She said that a technician quickly corrected the problem, but concerns still arose as to the overall election.

“Everyone also questioned if there was a problem with the Republican side, then were there any unknown problems on the Democratic side,” the woman said. “Aside from the usual and obvious issues with elections these days, no one knows if any votes were even counted, and if they were counted, then were they counted correctly?”

A state Senate government committee extended New Jersey’s deadline to install printers on all 10,000 electronic voting machines statewide, from Jan. 1 to June 3, 2008.

As a result, voter-verifiable paper receipts were not available in this week’s presidential primary. Paper receipts allow voters to check that their ions have been properly recorded, and would be counted in case of electronic malfunctions.


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