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Sunday, May 19, 2024

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County Clerk Explains Extensive Election Security Measures

2021. 

By Christopher South

COURT HOUSE – With less than 50 days until the November general election, the Cape May County Clerk’s Office is hard at work coordinating with the Board of Elections to make arrangements before voters head to the polls for the midterm elections. 
High on the list of priorities is making sure ballots are secure and uncompromised. 
“People are concerned about security,” said Cape May County Clerk Rita Rothberg, an elected Republican. “I talk to them all the time.” 
People started to express more concern after the 2020 elections when the State of New Jersey mandated mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. Rothberg said her office fielded 14,000 phone calls from people concerned about their vote. Many of them were asking about their mail-in ballot. Even recently, she has received an inordinate number of requests for public records related to the 2020 election. 
“My advice is this: if people want to request public records do it days after the elections. There are statutory limits to when an election can be challenged,” Rothberg said. 
Rothberg said she listens to the news and is aware of harassment and threats against clerks’ offices and boards of elections in other states. In some states, election officials have resigned over threats. Rothberg said she has not experienced those kinds of safety issues in Cape May County. 
“If I saw something I would be the first person yelling about it,” she said.
Every year, the clerk’s office regularly collaborates with many different agencies and offices, including the Board of Elections, County Emergency Management, the Prosecutor’s Office, and Management Information Systems, along with state agencies like the New Jersey Department of Homeland Security. 
The county also participates with the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center and the Elections Infrastructure Information Sharing and Analysis Center for alerts and training. Most of the issues they discuss have to do with email spoofs, which are bogus emails sent pretending to be from a trusted or official source. Rothberg said people should be skeptical of anything sent via email regarding their vote. 
“Our election computers are not connected to the internet,” Rothberg said. 
Elections results do make it to the county’s election website. Her office transfers vote tallies to the internet using a fresh thumb drive every time they have to post results.
Rothberg said the county clerk’s office is always working on elections, including school board elections, municipal elections and fire district elections, with the majority of votes being cast in person. In 2021, 70% of all the votes in the general election were cast in person, 4% in early voting and the rest by mail.
The clerk’s office has been busy preparing the final ballots, due to be sent to the printer Sept. 22. The county clerk’s office will mail out over 10,000 vote-by-mail ballots. However, Rothberg said that most people do not really like the mail-in ballot system because they feel their vote can be manipulated, despite a tracking system that follows the ballot. 
Rothberg said once a person is on the list to receive a mail-in ballot they remain on the list. If a ballot under their name is mailed, they will not be allowed to vote in person, but will instead be issued a provisional ballot. 
“If you get a mail-in ballot, use it,” Rothberg said.
 Anyone wishing to opt out can obtain a form for that purpose from the clerk’s office. Conversely, anyone who wants a mail-in ballot can pick one up at the clerk’s office or get one online. 
Rothberg said there were 39,120 votes cast in the 2021 General Election. As of May 2022, there were 75,388 registered voters in the county. She said there have been numerous initiatives to get people to register to vote. That is in addition to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, known as “motor voter,” which offers people the opportunity to register to vote while at the Motor Vehicle Commission. 
The votes are recorded by Electronic Systems and Software (ES&S). Previously, the county used Dominion Voting, which in 2020 still recorded the machine votes, while ES&S took care of the mail-in votes. This year the county will only use ES&S. Rothberg said the Board of Elections maintains the voting machines and keeps them secure. 
The Board of Elections is responsible for polling place management, voter registration and mail-in ballot tallies. She said 2% of the mail-in ballots are authenticated by hand. Generally, they record 100 ballots at a time, and they compare the machine count with the hand count. 
“We haven’t had a discrepancy,” Rothberg said. 
On election night, by 9:30 or 10 p.m., the clerk’s office will be sharing the results of the election at www.capemaycountyvotes.com. The clerk’s office and the Board of Elections count early voting first, then mail-in votes, and finally, the votes from the machines. 
Over the few days after the election, county workers will look at and investigate provisional ballots to determine if they are valid before the ballot is taken out of the envelope. 
Before the final count becomes official, there’s still time for voters to submit a mail-in ballot. Mail-in ballots are accepted after the election if they are postmarked by Nov. 8.
“It is a few weeks before there is an official tally,” Rothberg said. 
Thoughts on election security in Cape May County? Email csouth@cmcherald.com or call 609-886-8600 ext. 129.

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