Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes testifies before the New Jersey Voting Machine Examination Committee in Lawrence July 26Full size photo

Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes testifies before the New Jersey Voting Machine Examination Committee in Lawrence July 26

Contact: Julie Willmot
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Mercer County yet to receive voter-verified paper trail system from provider

TRENTON, N.J. -Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes testified today before the New Jersey Voting Machine Examination Committee that voting machine provider Sequoia must make good on its intention to retrofit the County's voting machines with so-called "paper-trails."

In his testimony, Hughes also expressed concern about the costs of state-mandated retrofitting for voter-verified paper record systems without a consensus between state and federal law on voting machine requirements.

"We are still waiting for Sequoia to deliver on its stated intention to us several years ago that it would provide these voter-verified paper trails," said Hughes. "The machines have worked well in past election cycles, but there is no way to know for sure. Sequoia has said time and time again it would step up and deliver, and yet we are still without a paper receipt as the state's deadline looms."

Since Tuesday, the New Jersey Voting Machine Examination Committee has been conducting public hearings in Lawrence to examine paper record systems for certain voting machines, among them the Sequoia Voting Systems brand utilized by Mercer County.

Under state law, electronic voting machines must include voter-verified paper record systems by January 1, 2008. Paper records would give the voters a chance to see their votes before finalizing their ballots, and could be manually recounted in case of challenges.

"Mercer County will comply with the new law that takes effect in January 2008, but we are still uncertain whether additional measures to secure votes will be mandated, such as optical scanners," Hughes said. "My concern today is what happens if federal legislation goes a step further than state legislation. This is an issue I think the committee needs to look at very, very carefully. I would hate to see us walk further down this plank and pay for a retrofit (for a paper-recording system) only to have the law change again."

Prior to the Hughes administration, Mercer County bought 600 Sequoia AVC Advantage voting machines for nearly $4 million, replacing 1950s-era machines. Most of the cost was offset by a Help America Vote Act grant, with Mercer County being among the first to receive that funding. They were first used in the April 2004 school election. Hughes said each "paper-trail" retrofit is going to cost $2,000 per machine, which amounts to a substantial cost once all machines are retrofitted.

"There can be no more important aspect of a democracy than to make sure each vote counts. Mercer County has already made an enormous investment in securing the public's vote, and we will seek additional state and federal funding if other upgrades are required," Hughes said. "We want the best and most reliable machines for our voters."