Unguarded Ballot Boxes Throughout Atlantic County, NJ. What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Unguarded ballot box in Galloway Township, a suburb of Atlantic City, New Jersey.  These ballot boxes will be left out day and night two weeks before the July 7, Primary Election.  So much for those who said the U.S. Postal Service has control over these ballots!

Long before we Americans won our independence, casting ballots in person on one, certain election day was a key part of our democracy.  It discouraged fraud by allowing each candidate to have representatives or challengers present when each vote was placed in the ballot box, and when ballots were counted at the end of  Election Day.  This also gave each candidate an equal chance to communicate with voters before votes were cast.

When I was in elementary school, my father took me along when he used a Shoup mechanical voting machine in the 1950’s.  When I was a candidate for Freeholder in Atlantic County thirty years later and won the Primary Election by a single vote, New Jersey was using the same voting machines!  I and everyone involved in that election had confidence that the vote counts were accurate because we had worked with the same machines all our lives.  Why were they changed in the 1990’s?

In 1888, safemaker Jacob H. Meyers invented a mechanical voting machine to replace paper ballots.  He formed the Automatic Voting Machine (AVM) Corporation and began mass producing them in 1898.  Samuel R. Shoup developed a similar mechanical  voting machine in 1905.  These machines were produced and sold by the Shoup Voting Machine Corporation.  Both of these mechanical voting machines replaced paper ballots in Atlantic City and most of New Jersey during the 1930’s.

Mechanical voting machines were simple to operate, easy to repair and maintain, difficult to break and easy to monitor.  They recorded votes on both a counter, and a register tape.  They were used in most of New Jersey for roughly 70 years until the year 2000.    Candidates, political parties, volunteers, and election workers were fully familiar with how they worked and how they could be checked.  Candidates and their challengers were invited to check each machine before they were sealed for Election Day to make sure all counters and register tapes began with “zero”.

Voters were required to register to vote and confirm their address at least 30 days before Election Day.  This allowed candidates to meet voters at their homes, and to make sure voters really lived where they said they lived.  Paper messenger and mail-in ballots were permitted only in rare cases where a doctor certified that a voter was sick or disabled, or if the voter certified that he or she would be out of the area on Election Day.   Election results at each polling place were certain and certified within minutes after the polls closed.  The register tapes with vote totals were taken to a secure office supervised by both parties.  The voting machines were taken to a sealed warehouse.   Both could easily be checked later if anyone disputed the results.

During the 1990’s, early voting, New Jersey laws were changed to allow voters to register to vote and change their address 21 days before Election Day.  Any voter could choose to vote early by mail or through messenger for any reason weeks before the the election.  New electronic voting machines often did not leave paper records, and could be manipulated.  Now, paper ballots are left for days and nights in unguarded boxes outdoors!  It is now far more difficult and expensive for candidates and political parties to make sure that all voters are citizens who reside at the addresses they claim, and that they vote only once.  It is now almost impossible for an ordinary citizen to know if a voting machine is functioning and recording accurate vote totals.

Why was this done?  Cui bono?  Who benefits?

Seth Grossman, Executive Director




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