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Law Clinic’s Challenge to Voting Machines Sent Back to Trial Court

September 16, 2013 – 

Today the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court remanded the “Voting Machines” case for a third trial. The Court found that testing that occurs before elections may not be adequate to detect either deliberate or inadvertent manipulation. The Court held that there is evidence that New Jersey’s voting machines could be manipulated to change the outcomes of elections, and wants a trial court to conduct further fact finding on this point.

“This is a victory for New Jersey voters,” said Rutgers School of Law–Newark Clinical Professor Penny Venetis, who is lead counsel in the case (Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Stephanie Harris, Coalition for Peace Action, etc. vs. Gov. Chris Christie). “Even though the Appellate Division found that the voting computers were not constitutionally infirm, the Court recognized that therecould be serious problems with how New Jersey’s voting computers count votes,” Venetis added. She announced that she disagreed with the Court’s constitutional findings, and that the plaintiffs plan to appeal the constitutional findings to the New Jersey Supreme Court. 

Princeton University professor Andrew Appel, an expert witness in the case, was able to hack the state’s voting machines in less than 10 minutes and cause the machines to cheat. Additionally, in 2011 voting machines in Cumberland County were programmed incorrectly to award the wrong candidates victory in a local election. The machines did not detect the error. Based on Venetis and Appel’s challenge, that election was overturned. The Appellate Division used the Cumberland County election as the basis of its finding that New Jersey’s voting machines might be too vulnerable for use.

“New Jersey is in the minority in 2013,” said Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a plaintiff in the case. “Today, 35 states require that computerized voting machines produce a paper record of each recorded vote that the voter can inspect for accuracy before casting his or her ballot. There has always been great concern with electronic machines that there are not adequate safeguards to ensure the integrity of elections. A paper trial would do just that.” Such voter verification requirements that were passed in New Jersey were suspended in 2009 for cost reasons.  

“The integrity of each election is questionable as long as votes cannot be verified” said Stephanie Harris, who is a plaintiff in the case. Harris does not know if her vote was counted when she attempted to vote on a computerized voting machine. “The computerized system did not appear to be working. Not even the poll worker knew if my vote was cast. She just kept telling me to press buttons. I may have voted up to four times, or my vote was not counted at all,” Harris added.

Irene Goldman, chair of the Plaintiff Coalition for Peace Action of Princeton, a grass roots organization that has been spearheading the drive for voter verified paper ballots, stated: “We have two fine laws in the state of New Jersey that should be implemented immediately. The dozens of millions of dollars spent for the two latest special elections could have easily been used to make sure that every vote is counted as cast and can be verified by the voter.”