Although all 80 seats in the New Jersey General Assembly are up for grabs this year, next week’s primary offers up only a few competitive races and experts expect low voter turnout.
Still, county officials will use the election as an opportunity to test new voting machines with a novel safety feature in New Jersey: a paper trail.
“As a voter, it gives you security knowing that what you’re voting for is actually what’s being counted,” said Stephanie Salvatore, the superintendent of elections in Gloucester County, which will use new machines in one town on Tuesday. “If you have a recount after the election, now you have paper that you’re physically hand counting.”
Counties across the state are beginning to test and purchase more modern voting machines that produce a completed paper ballot, which election officials say ensures an accurate vote count and protects against vote tampering.
Bergen and Hunterdon counties will also test new machines next week, according to a spokeswoman for the New Jersey Secretary of State’s Office. Union and Warren Counties have already bought new, paper-verified voting booths.
Salvatore said election officials will be on hand in Gloucester County to help voters operate the new machines, yet many people may not notice a difference.
“It looks like a big computer screen, and you’ll see the ballot, and the ballot will look the same as it used to,” she said. “But there’s not actually a button you’re pushing. You’re touching the screen, and it’s marking a paper ballot.”
What is unclear is just how many New Jersey voters will get to cast their votes on the new contraptions.
Benjamin Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship, said Tuesday’s primary election may not entice many voters to head to the polls. Few races are competitive, the general election is months away, and since the election is taking place in an off year, it will not include any federal contests.
“What drives turnout is publicity and competition,” Dworkin said. “You see much higher turnout when it’s a presidential year and everybody knows it’s a presidential election. That’s when a huge number of voters will show up.”