THE URGENCY OF PROTECTING OUR VOTING PROCESS, OUR ELECTIONS, AND OUR DEMOCRACY: OP-ED BY BRENDAN W. GILL

THE URGENCY OF PROTECTING OUR VOTING PROCESS, OUR ELECTIONS, AND OUR DEMOCRACY: OP-ED BY BRENDAN W. GILL

Freeholder President Brendan W. Gill addressing the crowd at the Secure the Vote Rally

As the election year of 2020 approaches, it is clear that technology has changed the world we live in.  The overwhelming majority of the changes have been beneficial, but we must always remember that as time and technology progress, we must adapt accordingly.  In the days, months, and years following our most recent presidential election, all of us have been bombarded with allegations and news coverage about the possibility of our elections having been manipulated. I am compelled to express, emphatically, that protecting the accuracy and veracity of our election results is the most important issue that we need to address to protect our democracy.

To that end, I wholeheartedly support Essex County purchasing voting machines that will employ the use of optical scanners and hand-written ballots.

My decision to support the purchase and implementation of these voting machines is not driven by the results of the previous presidential election, or any election. There have been many occasions in which an entire segment of a given electorate has been disappointed with the outcome at the polls. However, we can all agree that the INTEGRITY of our voting process must be protected.

This brings us to New Jersey which, unfortunately, is a state that is lagging behind in adjusting to new technology that can compromise our voting process. In the 1980s and 90s, the majority of states in the nation began using electronic voting machines that employed a Direct Recording Electronic touchscreen (DREs) to tabulate and record the votes of individual citizens. The technique was faster and easier to administer than paper ballots, and was generally considered an improvement from the previous method.

But as technology continued to evolve, it soon became apparent that the results generated by these machines could be altered through hacking and software manipulation. And without a paper ballot to verify the candidate that each individual intended to vote for, officials in charge of elections began to realize that these machines compromised the entire process.

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation by Andrew W. Appel, a Professor of Computer Science at Princeton University, on the different types of voting machines that are used throughout the country. Over the course of his presentation, he showed us the inner workings of the machines. His detailed analysis made it abundantly clear that all machines operating on a strictly electronic basis could be altered both during and after the votes were tabulated. Part of his presentation also showed the step-by-step details of how these machines could be manipulated.

There was only one conclusion that could be drawn – any voting machine that relied strictly on storing results electronically could be manipulated, and could be manipulated rather easily. Because of these findings, and findings of similar studies, one by one, states around the nation have switched to using optical scanners and paper ballots. Other information relayed by Mr. Appel:

  • Since 2004, no state has switched to paperless voting
  • As of 2018 only 12 states are still using DRE’s in their elections (New Jersey was one of the 12)
  • Of those 12 states, 3 states (Delaware, Georgia, and Pennsylvania) are currently in the process of switching to paper ballots

Many times in business, efficiency is a goal that we strive for.  The axioms, “don’t work harder, work smarter” and “do more with less” are often applied. However, the elections that maintain our democracy are not a business. The sanctity of our elections is a fundamental tenant of our way of life that must be protected and upheld. Taking shortcuts on this process, and maintaining the status quo, cannot be used as reasons to stick with a voting model that is clearly outdated.  Additionally, as a point of fact, many of the Optical Scanning voting machines that require voters to fill out a paper ballot are cheaper than the DRE voting machines that are currently in place in Essex County, and other counties throughout the state.

The time has come for New Jersey to do its part in protecting the integrity of our elections. I will advocate for Essex County to purchase new voting machines that will employ the use of Optical Scanners and Paper Ballots.

Brendan W. Gill is the President of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. The Board is the legislative body of Essex County government and is charged with matters of oversight regarding the budget, shared services, and other affairs under the county’s auspices. He is the father of a 10-year-old and 7-year-old and lives with his wife in Montclair.

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For Additional Information:
Kyalo Mulumba, Public Information Officer
Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders
973-621-4452 (phone) 973-621-5695 (fax)
kmulumba@freeholders.essexcountynj.org
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