I voted in the New Jersey primary a couple weeks ago. I used an electronic voting machine. It was not a reassuring experience.
After signing in the voter roll for my district, I was given the usual slip to hand to the poll worker at the machine. She threaded it with a needle, along with the previous slips, pushed a few buttons on a side panel, and invited me to go in.
Once inside. I pushed the button next to my chosen senatorial candidate. The green X came on. Then it went out. I pushed the button again. The X came on, then blinked out after a second. I tried a third time. On, then off.
I stepped out of the booth and told the worker that the X was lighting up but then immediately went off. She was puzzled, and went back to the voter roll table to consult her colleague there. Aha, she was told, you need to push the button to set the appropriate party primary. So she came back, did something on the machine’s controls out of my sight, and told me to go back inside. So I stepped back in the curtains, pushed the button again, and watched the X light up—before going off, just like before.
I told the worker it wasn’t working; a brief conversation ensued outside. Then she did something else, and the lights came on inside the curtain. (I hadn’t even realized that I’d been voting in the “dark”; it’s not a very bright light.) This time, when I pushed the button, the X stayed on. So did the Xes for the other candidates whose buttons I pushed. With everything now appearing to be in order, I pushed the big button to record my vote and went on with my day.
- I am less confident that my vote was properly recorded than in any other election I’ve ever voted in. Having someone tinkering with the machine while you’re in the process of voting is especially disconcerting.
- If I hadn’t noticed that something was wrong with the X, my vote definitely wouldn’t have been counted. Why did the X come on at all if the machine wasn’t ready to receive my vote?
- There were no instructions provided to tell me to make sure that my Xes stayed on. The light is a useful signal that the booth is active, but the absence of the light doesn’t clearly signal the reverse.
- How many other people at this polling place had their votes not counted because of this poll worker’s mistakes prior to me? How many other poll workers made similar mistakes? Someone should pull the voting records and compare the number of signatures in the voter roll to the total number of ballots cast at the corresponding machines.
The Princeton team has been doing yeoman’s work on keeping New Jersey e-voting honest. My experiences underscore the importance of that cause.