TRENTON - A Senate panel yesterday reluctantly extended the deadline for retrofitting 10,000 electronic voting machines to produce paper receipts, but warned the state attorney general to have the technology ready by June 3.
The six-month extension means New Jerseyans who vote in the Feb. 5 presidential primaries will have no paper trail of their computerized vote. Without a receipt, critics say there is no way for people to confirm the choices they make in the voting booth and no way for election officials to hold a recount.
"Our voting rights and voting systems are way behind in New Jersey," Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said yesterday in speaking against the proposal at the Senate State Government Committee hearing.
The legislation to postpone the deadline, which is backed by Democratic leaders in the Senate and Assembly, must be approved by both houses in order to take effect. Attorney General Anne Milgram said the state could not meet the original Jan. 3 deadline because of problems with technology used to fit the machines with printers.
A proposal to extend the deadline beyond June if technology is not available was deleted from the bill before the vote.
"We expect to meet the deadline," Milgram said in an interview after the hearing.
Milgram said she could have approved technology to meet the January deadline but that what was available did not meet the standards her office set. "It's important we do this once and do it right," she said.
In 2005, the Legislature required electronic voting machines to be fitted with printers by January to protect against vote-tampering and help with recounts. People voting electronically would view printouts to ensure their ballots were properly cast.
But scientists at the New Jersey Institute of Technology found flaws with the printers, and Milgram decided to ask the Legislature to extend the deadline. The attorney general oversees the state Division of Elections.
Mercer County Superior Court Judge Linda Feinberg also has been monitoring the attorney general's progress in complying with the 2005 law. Voting-rights advocates claim electronic-voting technology is flawed and unreliable. Feinberg scheduled January hearings on whether the machines are constitutional.
Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Bergen County Democrat on the Senate panel, was so dissatisfied with the lack of progress on the issue that she proposed a motion requiring the attorney general to provide a progress report to the panel by the end of February. It passed 3-2.
The panel also advanced a bill that would set up audits of election results in randomly selected districts.