Monday, December 10, 2007

Landmark NJ Election Audit Bill Passes Budget Committee

Trenton, New Jersey
Dec. 10, 2007

New Jersey's landmark Post-Election Audit Bill, S.507, passed the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee today by a party line vote (Democrats for and Republicans against), despite massive opposition from the office of Democratic Attorney General Anne Milgram -- the state's chief election official appointed by Governor Corzine.

The AG sent no less than four attorneys to argue against the bill on the basis of what appeared to be some inflated cost estimates for hand-to-eye counts of voter-verifiable paper records and ballots, and some apparent last-minute misinterpretation of the bill's language regarding the establishment of an independent professional state election audit board to design and oversee the audits.

Ten election officials from 10 counties in the state also voiced their opposition to the bill, although some of these had actually been consulted along with the Attorney General's staff during the bill's drafting process in which several important compromises were reached. Unlike those productive discussions, which did not result in a weakening of the audit provisions, witnesses at today's hearing report that there was a fair amount of antagonism.

No one actually opposed the notion of statistical audits (as required by S.507) per se, but there were some unsupported arguments put forth such as the unpredictability of costs and exaggerated cost estimates of post-election audits.

Costs presented by some counties were as high as several dollars per hand-counted vote, but one county, Mercer, submitted a cost of only 14¢ per hand-counted vote. This latter cost is in line with those submitted by experts and advocates for the bill from around the nation based on data from several other states where election audits and manual recounts have been conducted recently.

The next step for this bill will be a vote on the floor of the full Senate. The bill's sponsor, Senator Nia Gill (D - Montclair), continues her rock solid support for this groundbreaking legislation. She said of today's events, "We have moved one step closer to establishing a process that ensures the integrity of our voting system. Our constitutional right to vote is more than just casting a vote; it is also the right for that vote to be counted. The combination of a voter-verified paper trail and a mandatory audit provides the protection needed when using electronic voting machines. The people deserve nothing less, and I look forward to the bill’s passage before the full senate."

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