“Transient network issues” caused a delayed count in the June 6 primary voting results in Hudson County, according to county officials, who say the lapse figures will be corrected in the future with the exclusive use of a single election vendor.
A joint statement released June 8 by the county clerk, board of elections and superintendent of elections said that although early voting and vote-by-mail results were “posted promptly at 8:01 p.m.,” one minute after the polls closed, machine vote totals weren’t available for posting until “approximately 9:40 p.m.”
The statement said that based on trial runs done several weeks before the election and on the morning of the primary, officials “determined the reporting system was functioning properly.”
But subsequent investigation by the county’s elections consultant Enhanced Voting, of Jacksonville, Fla., disclosed that the problem encountered Election Night stemmed from a failure to merge data collected electronically by the in-person voting machines used (furnished by the company Election Systems & Software) and by those tabulating mail-in ballots (supplied by Dominion Voting Systems).
Hudson County Clerk Junior Maldonado put it this way: “We had two different (computer software) languages that didn’t talk to each other.”
As a result, the process of collating the final vote tally “took significantly longer than anticipated,” the statement noted.
To prevent future lapses, the statement said the county has contracted with ES&S “to be our sole election vendor beginning with the Nov. 7, 2023 General Election” so that, “going forward, ES&S will handle early voting, vote-by-mail ballots, and Election Day (machine) voting in Hudson County,” so there will no longer be a need to merge data collected from two separate election software systems.
ES&S, based in Omaha, Neb., is charging the county $384,000 – including $30,000 for licensing fees – to handle software and hardware scanning of the computer-run machines, according to Michael Harper, clerk of the Board of Elections.
Additionally, the County Clerk’s Office is negotiating to purchase and install “remote reading sites throughout the county so that election results may be read (at municipal clerks’ offices where the machines will be brought after voting closes) rather than having to be transported back to the Hudson County Clerk’s Office, which can cause significant delays depending on how long it takes for poll workers to return Election Night materials on Election Night.”
Another factor that, officials say, contributed to the delayed reporting of the Primary Night tally was that 44 voting cartridges spread among 13 polling stations in Jersey City, six in Hoboken, one in Harrison, and one in West New York were either “not returned or misplaced” on Election Night.
According to Harper, a subsequent search accounted for all but four, and in those cases voting cartridges were inadvertently left in the machines, preventing poll workers from counting them on Election Night. That was remedied by a court order June 9, allowing them to be counted, he added.
Hudson County used a state grant to purchase 139 ES&S machines for $1.3 million, which were deployed for early voting purposes in 2022 and in school elections last April.
The county followed that up by issuing $6.5 million in bonds to acquire 650 ES&S units for machine voting, explained Kevin Lacey, election coordinator for the Superintendent of Elections office.
The new machines replace the county’s old machines manufactured by Dominion Voting Systems, headquartered in Denver, Col., and Toronto. “We’re hoping they’ll last us the next 20 years,” Lacey said.
Of New Jersey’s 21 counties, 17 are currently using ES&S, Lacey said. Only Essex, Bergen, Burlington and Salem counties use another vendor, he said.
What makes ES&S distinctive, Maldonado said, is that, the new machines have a digital touchscreen that voters can choose to read in English or Spanish “and allow for a paper trail. State legislation mandated that we utilize voting machines that allowed that (trail). Unfortunately, the old ones did not and they (became) obsolete.”
As outlined by vendor specifications, ES&S machines generate a “paper vote summary card that provides voters with the opportunity to review their selections and verify that their vote was recorded accurately before submitting for tabulation. The vote summary card also serves as an audit trail for election officials.”
Security safeguards built into the machines include “lockable doors, tamper-evident seals, and access codes (that) cannot be bypassed or deactivated and alert election officials of unauthorized access while the unit is in storage, transport, preparation, and operation.”
The machines are programmed to generate “a detailed log of all actions and events that have occurred on the unit, which can be printed at any time” and every such incident “is logged and timestamped.”
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the remote reading sites would be individual polling stations. We regret the error.