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Sunday, May 19, 2024


Early Voting Mandates Purchase of New Machines

Election Systems and Software's Kevin Kerrigan

By Al Campbell

CREST HAVEN – The general election is Nov. 2. Early voting, which will occur in county libraries in Middle, Lower, and Upper townships, must begin 10 days prior.  
The clock’s ticking, and big investment looms. What to do? 
It seemed like a perfect electoral storm brewing when Michael P. Kennedy, Democrat registrar of the Cape May County Board of Elections, and Douglas S. Dunhour, Republican registrar, attended the Board of County Commissioners’ July 27 meeting. 
With them were representatives of Omaha, Nebraska-based Election Systems and Software (ES&S) LLC, Kevin Kerrigan, sales engineer, and Joe McIntyre, business development manager. Before the dais, the pair placed a voting machine and ballot reading devices to demonstrate. 
Listening was County Clerk Rita Rothberg, whose office is responsible for ordering sample ballots, holding drawings for candidates’ placement on ballots, and preparing mail-in ballots. That drawing is scheduled for Aug. 9, in the Clerk’s Office. Envelopes are already in-house, she said. Printers are under contract to produce those ballots. 
Rothberg said the decision to buy the mail-in ballot counting machines “alters my world,” citing contracts with the printers who have specifications dictated by the Dominion voting machines, and the Aug. 9 ballot placement deadline.  
“We’re talking about early voting. I’ve heard that you’ve made the decision for mail-in voting equipment, which is my role,” said Rothberg. “Today I find this out?” She asked. 
“You’ve known all along,” said Kennedy.  
“I haven’t known all along,” replied Rothberg. 
“There are two separate divisions between our offices. This is a choice of the Board of Elections,” said Kennedy, adding that ES&S could provide specifications for the printer that would work in the new machines. 
“We’re trying to do what’s right for the county,” Kennedy said. 
Kennedy told the commissioners that the four-member Board of Elections decided to buy 30 machines, 282 electronic poll books, and two high-speed scanners to read ballots from ES&S. That action would allow the county to comply with the state mandate and be able to conduct early voting for the November general election, he said. 
County commissioners are expected to decide on the purchase, roughly $1 million, at their Aug. 10 meeting. The state will reimburse the county for the full expense of all but the two scanners. 
Kennedy said the county Management Information Systems (MIS) will assist in making internet connections in the three locations for the poll books. Those connections will allow voters to be checked in real-time before voting a ballot, as they would in their home district, regardless of where their vote is cast. 
Kennedy underscored that only the poll books would be linked to the internet to verify a voter did not attempt to cast several ballots from various locations. 
Voting machines will remain offline and secure. 
A paper trail will be kept should a recount be needed. 
Later this year or in 2022, depending on the next bond issue, a replacement of the county’s 215 aging (16-year-old) Dominion voting machines is anticipated. Kennedy said they would be replaced with 140 ES&S machines. 
There is no longer a need for 215 machines, Kennedy said, since school elections are held with the November general election, and May municipal elections are only held in Avalon, Sea Isle City and Ocean City. 
Preliminary estimates for the latter purchase of the 140 machines is between $1.4 and $1.8 million, depending upon negotiations. 
Early voting hours will be from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Saturday. Sunday hours will be from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Kennedy said.  
Poll workers will be paid $14.25 an hour, and $30 for training, Kennedy said. However, the worker must work the election to get the extra $30. The state will reimburse for the workers’ pay. 
Board Director Gerald Thornton wondered why businesses are required to pay workers $15 an hour, but the state is allowed to pay only $14.25.  
“That’s what they’re telling me,” replied Kennedy. 
Only during early voting will a voter be allowed to cast a ballot from a location not in their home district.  
General election voting will still require each voter to vote at their traditional polling place.   

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