New Jersey Can Take a Critical Step Toward Securing Elections by Following Virginia’s Lead 

PRINCETON, N.J. (September 28) — Voting security experts are urging New Jersey election officials to follow Virginia’s lead in decertifying all paperless Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting machines before the November gubernatorial election. Earlier this month, the bipartisan Virginia Board of Elections unanimously recommended that the Commonwealth decertify all its DRE machines – which operate without paper ballot back-up – because state security testers found the machines to be vulnerable to attack.

“New Jersey, which uses the same kind of machines that were decertified by Virginia, has the opportunity to join Virginia in securing their voting systems this election cycle,” said Irene Etkin Goldman, Board Chair of the regional Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action. “New Jersey can no longer justify the use of insecure voting systems. The paper ballot is the ballot of record according to NJ law, but that law is not enforced for ‘lack of funds’. A voting system of hand marked paper ballots counted by Optical Scan tabulators, accompanied by separate non-tabulating ballot marking devices for voters with disabilities, will eliminate the security threat of DREs.”

“Virginia’s move to decertify all of its paperless voting machines is a critical step toward making its elections more secure. The decertification is an explicit acknowledgment that computerized machines are vulnerable and that election interference from a foreign actor is no longer theoretical,” said Barbara Simons, President of Verified Voting, a national nonprofit dedicated to securing elections in the digital age. “Verified Voting acknowledges that election officials take precautions to ensure that the risk of tampering is as low as possible, but defending any computer system is not foolproof. New Jersey needs to ensure its ability to detect interference is as strong as its other defenses. Whatever happens, we strongly urge New Jersey citizens to vote. The ultimate form of disenfranchisement is not to vote.”

Computer security experts started warning about the security vulnerabilities of paperless DREs more than a decade ago. In 2011, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) convened an Auditability Working Group to study how and whether DREs could be audited to ensure reliable results. The NIST Auditability Working Group found that any system that does not provide a voter-verified paper record of voter intent will be susceptible to undetectable errors in the vote count. Put simply, it is impossible to know for sure that the vote tallies generated from paperless DRE voting machines are correct.

Many other states, including California, Ohio and Maryland have discontinued use of paperless DREs and switched to far more secure voter-marked paper ballots and optical scan voting systems. New Jersey should do the same.