Voting machines are down on Election Day in Mercer County “due to a printing and scanning issue with the ballots,” according to county officials. Mercer County residents can vote by completing their ballots and placing them at the top of the scanning machine in the slot where the emergency ballots are placed, Mercer County Clerk Paula Sollami Covello said in a statement to NJ.com.
Felicia Spitz, First Vice Chair of the Princeton Municipal Democratic Committee, told The Daily Princetonian that “from a voter’s perspective there’s no impact other than it might be longer until we know the results.”
“[The] voting process itself is secure,” she said.
The news of issues with voting machines was announced through a post on Trenton’s Facebook page: “NOTICE: The Mercer County Clerk’s Office is reporting issues with ballot scanners throughout the county. Every voter can vote manually at their polling location, or you may fill out a provisional ballot.”
According to Vote411, “ballot scanners are not all functioning. Every voter may still go to their polling location and vote manually.”
Grace Schweitzer, an administrative assistant in Princeton, confirmed in an interview with the ‘Prince’ that there are machines down in the county and throughout the town.
“The Board of Elections has advised the county of issues with voting machines. Poll workers will be on hand to walk voters through the process. The board is working with Dominion, the machine maker, to resolve the issue,” a post on the Mercer County, New Jersey Facebook read.
A staff member from the County Clerk’s office told the ‘Prince’ that the poll workers are well-trained and have been calling the Clerk’s office to receive instructions as to how to handle the ballots. Technology professionals are actively working on fixing the machines, the staff member said.
Paula Sollami Covello, the Mercer County Clerk, said later that the machines were never fixed.
“We believe that a problem was in the programming, and we’re investigating it.” Covello told the ‘Prince.’ “We determined this morning that the best course of action was not to go fix them out on the field, but to investigate the problem, let everybody vote the exact same way countywide.”
The solution, according to Covello, was for voters to drop filled-out ballots in an emergency bin to be counted later at the Board of Elections. This way, she said, “every single ballot is treated the same.”
Spitz told the ‘Prince’ that when the problem with the voting machines was first discovered, they “initially started off voting with provisional ballots.”
The advice to the local polling locations changed, according to Spitz, when the “Board of Elections decided or determined that it would be best for everyone to fill out [the normal] ballot,” and drop the ballot in the emergency slot. Using the emergency slot will allow the ballots to be run through the scanners for quicker tabulation once the machines are repaired.
This voting plan did not go smoothly for everyone though. Pat Rounds, the Arts Program Coordinator for theOffice of the Dean of Undergraduate Studies (ODUS), voted in Mercer County this morning and said voters filled out their ballots in permanent marker, which could lead to problems.
“We were instructed to fill [the ballot] out with Sharpie, and it was double sided,” Rounds told the ‘Prince.’ “So when you're filling out your school board votes, it bled into the other side. Fortunately, the column is blank where that was on the mirror side, but it still totally bled through and vice versa. So hopefully that doesn't cause any problems.”
Meghan Moore, a Mercer County voter, told the ‘Prince’ that voters were turned away early in the morning because the machine was having trouble reading the ballots filled out with sharpie.
“There were some pretty upset people who had come early because of their work schedules,” Moore told the ‘Prince.’ “One was in scrubs and the other one was said he wouldn't be able to come back because of work. It seemed like they had come early in order to vote and work around their work schedule.”
Covello assured the permanent ink would not interfere with ballots.
“[Voting machine manufacturer] Dominion said the Sharpie is the most reliable way to count, and we print them so the ovals don't bleed onto other ovals. So that is not a problem,” she told the ‘Prince.’
Covello also said people should not have been turned away from voting stations, and that poll workers were instructed not to do so.
“That poll worker was incorrect and they should be reported,” she said. “We don't send voters away. We can give them a provisional ballot, or we can do what we did which was to take the ballots, put them into the emergency bin, and we'll count them back at the at the Board of Elections.”
Elections in Mercer County are being held for New Jersey’s third and 12th congressional districts. Incumbent Andy Kim (D-N.J.) is running against Bob Healey of the Republican party, Christopher Russomanno of the Libertarian party, and Gregory Sobocinski of the God Save America party in the third district race.
In the race for New Jersey’s 12th District, where Princeton is located, incumbent Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) is running against Darius Mayfield of the Republican Party and C. Lynn Genrich of the Libertarian party.
Mike Shanahan, the communications director for Bonnie Watson Coleman’s campaign, told the ‘Prince’ that he is “concerned that [the broken scanners] will frustrate people who go to the polls expecting to vote as they normally would.”
“But I’m not concerned about people who cast votes. That’s what’s being counted,” he added. “If you’re in line, your vote will be counted.”
Darius Mayfield had not responded to a request for comment from the ‘Prince’ by press time.
There are many other local races across the county, including in Princeton.
Incumbent Democrat councilmembers Mia Sacks and Michelle Lambros are running unopposed for Princeton Town Council. Incumbent Democrat Nina D. Melker and Democratic candidate Cathleen Lewis are running against Republican candidates Andrew Kotula Jr. and Michael Chianese for the Board of County Commissioners.
Princeton School Board incumbents Deborah Bronfeld, Susan Kanter, and Dafna Kendal are running against Margarita “Rita” Rafalovsky and Lishian “Lisa” Wu in the school board election. The five candidates are vying for three total seats on the board.
Voters can call 877-NJ-VOTER, the N.J. Department of State voter hotline, with any concerns.
This story is breaking and will be updated as more information becomes available.
Lia Opperman is an assistant news editor for the ‘Prince’ who often covers University affairs, political coverage, and student life.
Charlie Roth is a Staff News Writer and Assistant Data Editor for the ‘Prince,’ focusing on local town coverage.
Madeleine LeBeau is a Staff Writer for the ‘Prince.’
Hope Perry contributed reporting to this piece.
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