N.J. must improve upon slow-walk vote count | Editorial

It’s clear by now that Donald Trump received more votes than Joe Biden for president

It’s clear by now that Donald Trump received more votes than Joe Biden for president in Salem County, but its delayed election results should make it a go-to county for postmortems about how New Jersey can improve casting its ballots.

The delays are ending, now that Gov. Phil Murphy has given Salem a three-business-day extension, until next Wednesday, to certify its results. Nineteen other counties presumably were able to make certifications on Friday, the original deadline. Salem, as well as Ocean County, is expected to finish by Nov. 25, so that no one is still counting disputed ballots on Thanksgiving Day.

Salem County’s Board of Elections office suffered a coronavirus outbreak that sickened 14 people, landing one of them in the hospital and slowing the count of an unprecedented number of mailed and provisional ballots. But, the outbreak was first reported publicly and reached its peak on Nov. 13. That’s a full 10 days after Election Day, which raises the question of why so much counting still remained to be done.

Some of the exposed, but non-symptomatic, election workers isolated themselves in a trailer, heroically, to continue the count. We all hope that COVID-19 will not be a worry the next time that voters head to the polls but, if an elevated level of mail-in/absentee balloting is in our future, it needs to work better.

State-and-county officials throughout New Jersey did a good job communicating to the public not to expect final results on Election Night, no matter how impatient some columnists (yes, you Paul Mulshine) were. Almost no one in the Garden State adopted President Donald Trump’s crazy stance that all votes had to be counted on Nov. 3 itself. But, election boards in several counties were truly unprepared for the onslaught of non-machine ballots they were required to count.

New Jersey must initiate a way for a majority of “day-of” voters to use high-speed electronic tabulation equipment rather than pieces of paper. On Nov. 3, only disabled voters were allowed to use machines — which meant they had to be sent out to polling locations anyway.

Either the state must back off sending by-mail ballots to every registered voter (even those who don’t request them), or it needs to spend the estimated $25 million that Murphy says is required for a real-time system to verify that voters who turn up at the polls did not also mail in a ballot. Forcing so many “day of” voters to use paper provisional ballots had to be a factor in slowing the final Nov. 3 count.

While tackling reforms, it’s finally time to upgrade our electronic voting systems to supply paper receipts. It won’t do anything for pandemic-related glitches, but would offer some protection against hacking — the main pre-2020 voting integrity concern,

To that end, another Salem County concern, perhaps not directly related to the election, involves cybersecurity. A company claims in a new lawsuit that the county’s information technology services contract was given improperly to another firm that did not meet security procedure specifications. PDQ Signature Systems alleges that the winning bidder’s defect caused breaches resulting in an electronic theft of over $7,600 and a ransomware/virus attack that disabled county services this past January.

Without commenting on the validity of the lawsuit, any impact that insufficient security could have had on voter registration lists, for example, should be examined.

Finally, the Legislature needs to expand in-person “early voting,” which it failed to do within its reforms for the Nov. 3 contests. Such voting is not illegal days or weeks before an election date, but nothing currently compels counties to offer it beyond very limited locations or time periods. Both Murphy and Senate President Stephen Sweeney say they support the concept, so this should move ahead, pronto.

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