Ocean County pushing to spend $10 million Dominion voting machines after receiving campaign contributions

by Ron Wilson, Open Government

Dominion Voting System (Dominion) and Elections Systems & Software (ES&S) are competing for the $10 million voting machine contract. After both companies attended multiple meetings to demonstrate their voting machines, the senior staff from the Ocean County Board of Elections overwhelmingly recommended ES&S over Dominion.

At a June 21, 2021 meeting, the Board of Elections voted to purchase the ES&S voting machines, based on the recommendation of the senior staff. However, County Administrator Carl Block and County Clerk Scott Colabella are attempting to block the purchase of the ES&S machines, and have advocated for the purchase of the Dominion machines instead.

According to official campaign finance reports, Colabella and Block have received a combined $11,400 in campaign donations from Dominion representative Adam Perna and his company, Election Graphics. Perna represented Dominion at multiple meetings with the Board of Elections, including a May 4,2021 meeting closed to the public, where the Dominion machines were demonstrated to Election Supervisors and IT staff.

In total, Perna and his company Election Graphics have donated $134,200 to currently elected Ocean County officials and administrators, including Colabella ($6,800), Block ($4,600), County Surrogate Jeffrey Moran ($13,000), County Sheriff Michael Mastronardi ($13,000) and County Commissioners ($96,800 total) Joseph Vicari, Virginia Haines, Jack Kelly, Gerry Little, and Gary Quinn.

At the June 21, 2021 Board of Elections Meeting, which was open to the public, senior staff raised concerns about the Dominion voting machines including voter privacy, the reliability of the printers, and operational complexity. The Board of Elections staff noted that the ES&S machines are superior to Dominion and easier for the voter to use. Staff also noted that the Dominion voting machine printers are typically used for a home office and the process of moving the machines in the back of a truck could result in system failures. Before each election, voting machines must be delivered from the county warehouse to every voting precinct in Ocean County.

Despite the Board of Elections decision to purchase the ES&S voting machines, Ocean County officials are now issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP), in an attempt to award the contract to Dominion, whose representatives have donated $134,200 to their campaign accounts.

On July 30, County Administrator Carl Block issued the RFP for new voting machines. The RFP omits requirements for security measures, battery backup, transportability, and ease of use for poll workers and voters. Perhaps the most notable omission is that voting machines are not required to be certified by the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency responsible for certifying all election equipment.

The RFP process will give the Ocean County Commissioners the ultimate decision on which voting machines will be purchased, despite their apparent conflict caused by the $96,800 in campaign donations received from Dominion representative Adam Perna.

Ocean County currently uses the Sequoia Voting Systems AVC Advantage Voting Machine. These machines now need to be replaced because they are fully electronic and do not have a paper backup for each individual vote. New Jersey P.L. 2021, c. 40, signed by Governor Murphy on March 30, 2021 requires voting machines which produce a voter-verifiable paper ballot, which allows for an election audit to do a 100% match with cast ballots.

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