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Eagleton Institute of Politics
Eagleton Institute of Politics

Research/Publications


New Jersey 2001 Election


One of Four in Series of Century Foundation Reports That Show Election Reform Bill Will Solve Many, But Not All Election Day Problems

Key Ingredients are New Technology, Voter Education, Poll Worker Training and State-Wide Registration Roll.

Contact: Tova Wang, The Century Foundation, 212-452-7704

The New Jersey 2001 gubernatorial election is one of four contests highlighted by the Century Foundation in a study to assess the extent to which problems evident in Florida and elsewhere in 2000 persisted in the absence of fundamental reform throughout most of the country. The others are the governor's race in Virginia, and mayoral races in New York City and Los Angeles.

The Century Foundation reports were released and discussed at the National Press Club, Washington D.C. on October 15, at a program, "Does the Federal Election Bill Fix The Problem?" moderated by Juan Williams, senior correspondent for National Public Radio's Morning Edition.

Overall, the reports show that election problems were much less pervasive in Virginia and Los Angeles -- which have long-standing voting laws and practices that parallel the reforms that Congress enacted -- than in New Jersey and New York City, where there have been more scattershot approaches to election reform.

The reports can be found at www.reformelections.com/publications.asp?sort=2002%20%26%20Before.

The Overview of the Century Foundation Report (p. xxxiv) notes that in New Jersey, "structural flaws in the system reduce responsibility for carrying out elections effectively and leave local and county administration unaccountable." The report notes that in the 2001 election, the number of uncounted votes rose - usually New Jersey hovers around the national average -- despite the fact that the state replaced its punch card ballot machines. It also notes that New Jersey uses a wide variety of voting machines, and despite official reports, election observers and voting advocates report polling sites and systems remain inaccessible for the disabled.

The report on the 2001 New Jersey Election was prepared by Ingrid W. Reed, director of the Eagleton New Jersey Project, Eagleton Institute of Politics (p.3). It points out that New Jersey's decentralized, county-based election system is very similar to Florida's and lacks transparency and accountability.

The NJ report describes the context for the 2001 elections and discusses how the process worked by looking at four places where specific election problems arose -- Atlantic City, Cumberland County, Passaic County, and Mercer County. It also presents results of an informal survey of election administrators about the 2001 election that showed that the increase in poll worker pay successfully addressed the need for workers. It also makes recommendations for improving future elections (p.39):
- define a state leadership role in managing elections
- set county standards for streamlined administration
- address the needs of citizens with disabilities
- examine role of absentee ballots
- improve services for bilingual voters
- upgrade and standardize voting equipment
- consider practices in other states for such initiatives as statewide voter lists, mail ballots, shorter registration deadlines
- use modern communications to promote elections
- recognize outstanding achievements in election administration at the county and local level

The report concludes that "the challenge is to find a way to address the systemic issues about election administration in order to assure that the more specific issues are implemented fairly and efficiently and not simply added on to an already complex, overburdened structure.... Leadership from the governor and the legislature will be required to define the expectations for reform and to engage, not ignore, the many individuals and entities already involved in the election process to craft a new system."

Reed added that the new federal election reform act will be catalyst for addressing many of the problems with New Jersey's system and provides funds to make improvements in voting equipment.

According to The Century Foundation, among other provisions, the federal reform requires every state to have state-wide registration rolls; provisional voting (already in place in New Jersey); have measures for keeping the number of votes lost in elections to a minimum; requires that voting systems have the capacity to allow the voter to check his or her vote, verify it, and change it if desired, before it is cast; and to have ballots available in languages other than English in jurisdictions where a significant part of the populations speaks another language. Problems uncovered in The Century Foundation reports but not adequately addressed in the reform measure include de-centralized election systems, error rates that don't include voter error, lack of well trained poll workers and language translators at the polls, and low rates of voter registration.