By ERIN ROLL
Instead of pushing an X on a voting machine, voters who cast ballots at the Montclair Fire Department headquarters on Pine Street on Nov. 5 filled in dots on a paper ballot with a pencil. Voters then dropped them into a box to be later retrieved by a poll worker who scanned it to record the vote. Some models of machine give voters a paper receipt of their ballot after they cast their vote.
This “old school” version could be the future voting system and bring back the pencil and paper when casting ballots at the polls on Election Day in Montclair and throughout New Jersey.
The Montclair Fire Department headquarters on Pine Street was chosen as one of the testing sites for a new paper polling machine on Election Day. The machine involves scanning in a hand-written paper ballot.
The fire headquarters is the polling place for districts 4 and 8 in Montclair’s Fourth Ward.
If the machines are found to have worked well, voters all across Montclair and Essex County may be using them in the future.
Last year, New Jersey received $10.2 million in federal funding to improve election security. The state decided to use a portion of that money to purchase what are known as a Voter Verified Paper Audit Trail voting machines. Five counties in central and southern New Jersey were the first to use the machines.
Mayor Robert Jackson said the machines were being tested this year. Depending on how they worked and were received by the public, the superintendent of elections hoped to have them in place for all districts for the 2020 general election, which includes the presidential race.
Third Ward Councilman Sean Spiller said it was important to have a paper record of votes, calling it essential for the voting process.
“We’ve got to ensure we’re doing all we can to safeguard it.” By bringing back the paper ballots, he said, “we’re going old school.”
Several counties have started exploring the machines, due to ongoing security and accuracy concerns associated with electronic voting machines and their software.
In 2018, Union County experimented with the same machines that Montclair used, Jackson said.
Deputy Clerk Juliet Lee said Wednesday that as of that day, she had not heard of any problems reported with the machines, and it was too early to tell how well the pilot program had gone. But based on some of the comments made as voters were handing in their ballots, the machines seem to have been well-received. “It went very smoothly,” she said.
Montclair was also the site of a paper voting pilot in 2018. It was part of a process in which different machines were being tested out, she said.
Montclair voters went to the polls to choose two members of the General Assembly, a county register of deeds and mortgages, and a member of the Board of Chosen Freeholder.
In the race for the 34th legislative district, Democrats Thomas P. Giblin and Britnee Timberlake won out against Republicans Bharat Rhana and Irene DeVita, and independent candidate Clenard Howard Childress Jr. Giblin received 13,457 votes, Timberlake received 13,254 votes, Rhana received 708 votes, DeVita received 704 votes, and Childress received 414 votes.
In the race for county register, Juan M. Rivera Jr., a Democrat, won out against Kristina Christoforou, a Republican, 55,823 votes to 16,009. For the Board of Chosen Freeholders, Romaine Graham, a Democrat, won out against Adam Kraemer, a Republican, 55,676 votes to 15,644.
Voters in Essex County approved the public question, asking if veterans living in retirement communities should be eligible for certain veterans’ benefits.