WESTFIELD, NJ — Voters from throughout the county have a choice between Spiderman, Batman and the Green Hornet — supposed candidates in a demonstration of new voting machines on display at the Union County Annex building.
However, Westfield residents will be casting their votes for real candidates in less than two weeks. And there are plans to roll out the new system to the entire county by next year, in time for use in the 2020 presidential election.
The Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders awarded a contract of $1.9 million to Election Systems and Software to provide a new vote tabulation system at an Oct. 11 meeting.
“The way we saw it is, if we didn’t do it by next year, we wouldn’t be able
to get it done until 2022,” Nicole Dirado, administrator for the Union County Board of Elections, said in an Oct. 18 interview with LocalSource. “We needed a change and right now was the perfect time to do it.”
The Express Vote XL machine combines a touch-screen ballot-marking device with a voter verified paper audit trail and does not connect to the internet, a priority due to the ongoing national debate regarding election security.
“It can never be hacked because it is not and never will be attached to the internet,” Dirado said. “The computers that program it are not attached to the internet and they are not attached to a network that touches the internet.”
The machine is state certified as well as federally certified, which isn’t required, according to Dirado.
“The state doesn’t require federal certification from the EAC, but it was important to us that the machine went through that extra rigor of testing considering the national concerns with security,” she added, referring to the federal Elections Assistance Commission.
Compared to the voting machines the town has used for the past 20 years, the Express Vote XL features a larger screen, an option for bigger text, and a back-up battery that can last up to eight hours in the event of a power outage.
“We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback, especially from the older community,” Dirado said. “Some people were having issues seeing the little green ‘X’ on the current machines, so they appreciated how large the screen was.”
Richard Barry, who is in charge of demonstrations taking place at the Colleen Fraser Building on North Avenue, said he hasn’t received any negative feedback since the county unveiled the machines Oct. 13.
“I taught this woman while her husband was doing some paperwork, and she was so excited to teach him when he came over,” Barry added. “She showed him how to use the machine perfectly, which shows you how easy it is to use.”
The verified paper audit trail allows voters to review their ballot before it’s cast and if there’s an issue, they have the chance to change it or quit voting altogether. Once it is cast, the paper ballot is randomly stored.
“There is absolutely nothing on the paper trail that will identify anyone as a voter,” Dirado stated. “The coding that will appear on the top simply represents a voter’s selections on the machine.”
Westfield’s population, with about 25,000 registered voters, made it an ideal town for the county’s pilot program.
“We felt that Westfield would give us a good gauge of what our resources on election day would have to be to be able to accommodate questions, problems and poll worker issues before the polls open,” Dirado said.
Dirado and other county officials anticipate rolling out the machines to half of the county’s voting districts for the June 2019 primary and take the machines countywide in November 2019.
The initial contract award will include 190 voting machines, two vote tabulators, hardened workstations, software licensing, training and hardware and software maintenance. The balance of the contract will be included in the 2019 capital budget in the amount of $2.9 million for a total amount not to exceed $4.8 million. By next year, there will be a total of 432 machines in place throughout Union County.
“We’re happy and we’re confident that this is the machine for our county,” Dirado added. “And we encourage everyone from the county to come and test it out during a demonstration.”