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Ed Felten, Andrew Appel, Jonathan Mayer, and Marian K. Schneider.

By Ezra Zimble


With midterm elections approaching, New Jersey is still using technology which leaves voting results vulnerable to hacks. At a panel Wednesday evening about election security, computer science professor Andrew Appel highlighted the fact that New Jersey and four other states exclusively use computer-based ballots, which makes detecting hacks and recounting votes impossible.

Forty-five other states have adopted, to varying extents, optical scanning technologies which scan and count marked paper ballots, allowing humans to verify the results and count hard-copy paper ballots.

When asked about New Jersey’s practices by panel moderator Professor Edward Felten, Appel responded that state officials responsible for running elections prioritize convenience over the ability to verify election results after the fact.

Appel recalled that when New Jersey election administrators were replacing the state’s old machines in the 1990s, they had the option of buying optical scanning machines but instead “wanted something that looked and felt as much as possible like the same lever machines that were installed in 1960.”

Appel further demonstrated the current system’s vulnerability with an example from a 2011 local primary election in Cumberland County, NJ, in which all the votes for one candidate were swapped with those of another.

As the current machines in New Jersey were designed in 1987 and are nearing the end of their lifespans, Appel said he wants to know how soon New Jersey will replace these machines and whether the state will replace them with optical scanning technology or preserve the current voting technology.

For the duration of the panel, panelists discussed the interaction between federal and state governments in running elections and how states can improve election security. Panelists said governments who do work with paper ballots should also incorporate sample auditing after every election.

When asked about his thoughts about voting in New Jersey after listening to the panel, mechanical and aerospace engineering major Andrew Redd ’20 commented, “I’m quite concerned about my vote in New Jersey.”

He said that he hopes being politically active can help alleviate problems with voting systems, especially the issue of legislative voter suppression of specific demographics. 

The election security panel was hosted by the University’s Center for Information Technology Policy and took place at the Friend Center. The other panelists who presented were Jonathan Mayer, assistant computer science and public affairs professor, and Marian K. Schneider, president of the Verified Voting Foundation.

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