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Ocean County Approves $9.4M Purchase of New Touchscreen Voting Machines

Express Vote XL Voting Systems. (Photo: ESS)

Express Vote XL Voting Systems. (Photo: ESS)

Ocean County residents will experience new technology when they vote in this year’s elections, with the county finalizing a decision to upgrade its voting machines.

Ocean County Commissioner Virginia E. Haines, liaison to the Ocean County Board of Elections, said 850 Election Day voting machines and 72 early voting machines are being purchased from Election Systems and Software at a cost of $9.4 million. The machine selected is the Election Systems and Software “Express Vote XL” platform.

According to ESS, the paper-based ExpressVote XL system displays the full ballot on a 32-inch interactive screen and produces an independent voter-verifiable paper record. The ExpressVote XL “improves the Election Day experience for voters — allowing them to mark and tabulate their vote in one stop,” the company said.

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New Jersey state law allows county election boards to choose from a small number of certified voting platforms. The Ocean County Board of Elections conducted an in-person assessment of those election machines at the Toms River branch of the Ocean County Library on Nov. 21, 2022. The board, and commissioners, ultimately came to the decision to purchase the ExpressVote system.

“Based on the presentations, it was determined the best machine would be Election Systems and Software, LLC, Express Vote XL Voting systems,” Haines said.

While the system has been the subject in litigation during post-election legal wranglings in some jurisdictions, its reliability has not been found to be deficient. A federal judge in 2020 decided a legal challenge of the machine’s votes in Pennsylvania was “baseless and irrational,” and a “fantasy” based on “ill-considered theories” of hacking potential. The litigation was initiated by Jill Stein, a political activist who was the Green Party’s nominee for the 2012 and 2016 presidential elections.

Express Vote XL Voting Systems. (Photo: ESS)

Express Vote XL Voting Systems. (Photo: ESS)

Though the voting process is completed on a touch-screen, voters insert a paper card, which prompts the system to display the correct ballot on the screen. Voters then make their selections, and the machine’s integrated thermal-based printing system creates a copy of the ballot selections. During the cast process, vote data that is read from the voter-verified paper record is recorded. The print head lifts out of contact with the paper path, allowing the ballot to pass through to the secure card container. The election programming and vote data are encrypted and digitally-signed, so the system can verify that they are from a trusted source and have not been altered. The machines have a door that can be physically locked and only opened with a unique key, and turned on with secure access codes. It also has four backup batteries so the machine can keep functioning during a power outage.

County officials said the machines provided greater ease for casting a ballot especially during early voting when a paper ballot is produced as part of the voting process. The new machines will replace all of the county’s voting machines.

“By replacing all of our voting machines, we will provide uniformity and familiarity for the voters,” Haines said. “Training our poll workers will be easier and we will not have to merge data between two different brands of voting machines.”

An Ocean County ballot drop box for the 2020 election. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

An Ocean County ballot drop box for the 2020 election. (Photo: Daniel Nee)

Ocean County anticipates receiving a $2 million credit from Election Systems and Software for the voting machines it currently has. The new machines are expected to be delivered in the next few weeks.

“The new machines have received a thorough review by the Board of Elections and the Board of Commissioners,” said Commissioner Joseph H. Vicari. “It’s important our voters know we did our due diligence before deciding on which new voting machine would be purchased.”

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