Who will pay to upgrade NJ’s voting technology?
Counties are preparing to adopt the latest in election technology – but progress could depend on whether and when the state pays for the upgrade.
As part of their effort to get lawmakers, freeholders and others familiar with what’s available, the New Jersey Association of Election Officials recently held a trade show at the Trenton War Memorial showing off the current state of technology – items common in some states but rare, for now, in New Jersey.
Cape May County Clerk Rita Fulginiti said the pace for the updates will depend on state law and state funding.
“It will cost a lot to upgrade to better equipment, but it’s all about the voter and making voting systems accessible to the voter,” Fulginiti said.
New Jersey would need to spend $64 million to upgrade all the voting machines in the state, New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice estimates.
The state is spending $2.5 million from a nearly $10 million federal Help America Vote Act grant on a pilot program for new voting machines. The path forward could be a topic at the Department of State budget hearings when they pick up next week after a one-week breather.
Shona Mack-Pollock, the deputy superintendent of elections in Passaic County, said the pilot program enabled some counties to buy small numbers of voting machines that will be tested this year.
“We’re hoping that if they do mandate the machines that the money will be made available,” Mack-Pollock said. “But right now, the counties are, I believe, going to be responsible for the purchase of the machines. But I think ultimately, it is going to be the taxpayers’ responsibility.”
New Jersey election officials say the current systems are secure but acknowledge they could benefit from technological upgrades. The next step could be electronic poll books.
Electronic poll books are digital versions of the paper-based lists of voter rolls now used to check in voters as they show up at the polls. Lawmakers have put a bill on Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk that would allow counties to begin using them. He has until mid-May to act on the legislation.
Atlantic County superintendent of elections Maureen Budgon said electronic poll books allow for more efficient elections, make it easier to process voters and make the work of poll workers, who help run an election just a few times a year, a bit less subjective.
“Everything that’s involved in New Jersey election law, that’s an awful lot to put on somebody who’s just doing the job sporadically and hoping for a good outcome,” Bugdon said.
Bugdon said the technology can also more easily assist voters who show up at the wrong polling place.
“An electronic poll book, you punch your name in, you’re going to see exactly where you should be voting. You can find out the directions to that polling site, what have you. As much information as a county wants to put within that poll book is possible.”
Electronic poll books cost around $1,500 to $2,000 each in their first year. At least two would be needed at each polling place.
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Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5 and the editor of New Jersey: Decoded. Follow @NJDecoded on Twitter and Facebook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org