Author: Pamela Smith

A judge in New Jersey has ordered a new review of New Jersey’s voting systems, this time by qualified technical experts, in a partial victory for advocates challenging the systems’ constitutionality. State law requires that voting systems be “accurate and reliable.” From our vantage point, these systems don’t meet that standard; because they cannot be audited, there’s no way to check for accuracy. A recent report from researchers at UCSD illustrated a stunning new kind of vulnerability in the type of voting system in widespread use in New Jersey (AVC Advantage), where code could be inserted, modify results and vanish without detection. An author on that study, and expert witness in the New Jersey case, Prof. Edward Felten, said preventing such attacks “requires an extraordinary level of security engineering, or the use of safeguards such as voter-verified paper ballots.”

While other requirements from the Judge address some security measures, including criminal background checks on personnel working with the voting machines and all third party vendors who examine or transport them, and protocols for inspecting machines to ensure they have not been tampered with, such checks have no impact on any tampering that may have occurred in the past (such as during the extended periods of time in which they were left unattended at polling places before and after past elections), and provide no failsafe that would ensure reliability. Voting systems can no longer be connected to the Internet, which we trust means New Jersey will now provide a more secure way to allow for the return of voted ballots from overseas voters.

Representative Rush Holt issued a statement following the ruling: “If, as the court acknowledges, security vulnerabilities exist, then the court and the citizenry should want the possibility of audits capable of detecting and mistakes or misbehavior,” Holt said. Congressman Holt has introduced legislation that would require auditable systems nationwide.

Plaintiff Stephanie Harris said she believes that “until a voter-verified paper ballot system is in place, I cannot fully trust that NJ’s Sequoia voting machines are counting my vote properly.” Further to Harris’ point, until New Jersey deploys voter-verified paper ballots systems statewide, and initiates the routine conduct of robust post-election manual audits, its election officials cannot prove that the votes are being counted properly.