April 23, 2024

Counting Electronic Votes in Secret

Things are not looking good for open government when it comes to observing poll workers on Election Night. Our state election laws, written for the old lever machines, now apply to Sequoia electronic voting machines. Andrew Appel and I have been asking a straightforward question: Can ordinary members of the public watch the procedures used by poll workers to count the votes?

I submitted a formal request to the Board of Elections of Mercer County (where Princeton University is located), seeking permission to watch the poll workers when they close the polls (on Sequoia AVC Advantage voting computers) and announce the results. They said no!

The Election Board said this election is “too important” to permit extra people in the polling place.

They even went so far as to suggest that my written application was fraudulent. I applied on behalf of five people: two Princeton University students, two professors, and myself. In an abundance of caution, I requested authorization in the form of “challenger badges” which the Board of Elections can issue at its discretion. By phone, I explained our interest in merely watching the poll workers.

Of course we understand that they might not want extra people getting in the way on Election Night — that’s why we took measures to get special authorization. To ensure that we could be lawfully present, we asked for challenger badges as non-partisan proponents and opponents of two Public Questions on the ballot, as permitted by NJSA 19:7-2. My request was entirely in compliance with state law, as all the prospective challengers are registered to vote in Mercer County.

In spite of this, the Board expressed reluctance, based on the identities of the prospective challengers. In particular, they cited Andrew’s status as an expert on Sequoia voting machines as a “concern,” and provided assurances that Sequoia has fixed all the problems he identified in past elections.

Other counties in New Jersey permit members of the public to watch the poll workers “read” the election results. Combined with Judge Feinberg’s decision to suppress Andrew’s report on the security of the Sequoia machines, Mercer County conveys the unfortunate impression it does not welcome scrutiny of its electronic voting process.


  1. Are there other counties in NJ that use Sequoia that would let you be observers? Are there laws about observers for the political parties. If so, you could get appointed by one of the parties to observe. FYI- this story is reported in many places as “New Jersey” won’t allow your observation. But it appears to just be Mercer County, is that correct?

  2. Just read an article on HuffPost about related matter of missing white house emails:
    Rebecca Abrahams: White House Emails: The Missing Link?

    “Spoonamore, a life-long Republican, is currently serving as a star witness in a lawsuit charging the GOP with rerouting Ohio 2004 election headquarter tabulators to SmartTech servers in Chatanooga, Tennessee before releasing them to Secretary of State Ken Blackwell’s office. The lawsuit maintains that Karl Rove, with the assistance of Mike Connell, architected and directed a strategy to manipulate elections through the use of computers.”

    Is this the beginning of a strategy to finally prove the “undetectable” manipulation of vote counts, that will enable us to reform our electronic voting to include the right to public scrutiny of our elections?

  3. You can become a challenger, but challengers come from one party or the other not the Board of Ellections.

    I have been a Poll worker in Morris County for over 20 years, I’m a Democrat in a Republican County and I can tell you that Morris County is the most corrupt county in the state as no one is ever investagated because the Republicans run everything.

  4. Collin Lynch says

    In my home state I’ve seen the same behavior and we’ve had to fight hard to get in circumventing both major parties to do so since neither one has a vested interest in asking about machine security until one of their people loses.

    Lets face it. These voting machines are, at best, rebuilt Yugos with the hoods welded shut. To the politicians who picked them they cannot admit mistakes. Any mistake, particularly a multi-million dollar one would be a deathblow to their political career. For the people running the election they know that they are responsible for making the Yugos run correctly but have only limited ability to do so.

    Cast into that someone who a) knows what they are doing; b) has no vested interest in protecting the status quo; c) has credibility; and d) will tell the truth about what they see and of course they’ll try to keep you out. If you find half of the things that we have found (see http://www.voteallegheny.org) you’ll be public enemies.

  5. Hi –

    Just wanted to note that we’ve added this to the http://www.thosewhocount.com site. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Electronic voting has been a “hot” topic. Though I favor electronic voting, it may not be ready for “prime time” for security reasons. Nevertheless the electronic voting debate seems to have missed a crucial security issue. Are the people who show -up to vote even eligible to vote? Recently ACORN has been accused of voter fraud at the registration step. So before we even get to the issue of the best method of counting votes, we need to ensure that those who do show up are eligible to vote.

    • There is no “voter fraud at the registration step” and the accusations toward ACORN are either ignorant or dishonest, depending on how much the accuser knows. First, ACORN turns over its registrations in 3 piles, those they are sure are good, those they are not sure of, and those they are sure are bad. Why do they turn over even those they think are bad? Because they are usually required to by law. This requirement is there to stop a group from taking registrations from lots of people but turning in only those they think will vote a certain way; this was done, BTW, in 2004 by at least one GOP-connected group.

      Even if a registration card is turned in and is fraudulent, that doesn’t mean the person can vote or that voter fraud has been attempted. Voter fraud can only be done by someone not eligible to vote trying to vote (not register). So if “Mickey Mouse” or “The Dallas Cowboys” is entered on a registration card and is turned in and accepted, this still isn’t a problem unless “Mickey Mouse” or “The Dallas Cowboys” turns up and tries to vote. Even then it’s not a problem unless the poll workers allow “Mickey Mouse” or “The Dallas Cowboys” to actually vote, which is unlikely unless they’re blithering idiots. If they are blithering idiots, I suggest that’s a bigger problem than “Mickey Mouse” or “The Dallas Cowboys” registering.

  7. well, you could just vote at the end of the voting timeframe (if it’s like 5pm, etc), and just take an excessive amount of time to vote, so that you can visually verify.

    Or you could let the press/news know and watch how quickly the board changes their mind.

    I see plenty of solutions here, all basically say that the elections board doesn’t know anything at all.

  8. It seems pretty clear their concern is that someone who can readily recognise a problem would be there.

  9. Are they implying that you might find something out of the ordinary? Isn’t that the bloody point of your request.

  10. In particular, they cited Andrew’s status as an expert on Sequoia voting machines as a “concern,”

    That is hands down the scariest thing I’ve read concerning voting machines.

  11. Maybe you should walk over to the law school and see if anyone wants to help you get access via a lawsuit, complete with an injunction on counting anything before the case is resolved. 🙂

  12. This is particularly unfortunate because so many of the responses to questions about voting-machine security involve defense-in-depth, and the claim that responsible behavior by poll workers will prevent many otherwise-plausible forms of election tampering. When election authorities refuse to let impartial observers watch exactly those procedures that are supposed to guarantee the security of an election, it does raise the “never attribute to malice…” notion.

  13. “I submitted a formal request to the Board of Elections of Mercer County (where Princeton University is located), seeking permission to watch the poll workers when they close the polls”

    If we had a properly functioning democracy, you would not need to ask permission. All election procedures would be carried out in a public space, to which the general public had access on a no-questions-asked basis, with as much right to be there as to stroll through the city’s public park or, during its operating hours, the shopping mall.

    The one reasonable restriction would be possibly having to go through a metal detector to enter.