It goes without saying that the last two elections run in Mercer County have not gone as planned.

This is not the time in our country where we can afford any missteps when it comes to the integrity of elections, yet we have now endured them in back to back years.

As I’ve previously declared, I do not believe any of the mistakes on Election Day impacted the results in any meaningful way, and I congratulate our three new Board of Education members —Jeffrey Pierro, Raghu Nandan and Peter Oehlberg. I wish each of you the best of luck, and I am sorry your first election was fraught with so much turmoil.

I have always said putting your name on a ballot is one of the most difficult —but potentially rewarding things—a person can do, and you are all to be commended for your efforts and your service to the students of this school district.

The reports we’ve received from poll workers have not been encouraging, and serious questions about the chain of custody of ballots have been raised by those in the field that evening. We have received unconfirmed reports about bags containing ballots arriving opened, thus raising at least the possibility of tampering. The whole idea of sealing the bags before they leave the polling station is so this does not happen.

Moreover, ballots being left inside machines is utterly unacceptable and shows a complete lack of proper training. We also find it highly embarrassing that because of the large size of the ballots, almost everyone in the room paying any sort of attention can see a person’s ballot choices as they walk over to put those ballots into a scanner.

The whole concept of voting is that is supposed to be private and secure. These ballots are so large in size, even the election challengers sitting in the room can possibly see who someone voted for. For us, that is unacceptable.

The election process in Mercer County needs to be open, transparent and public. Training of poll workers needs to be a priority.

We’re certainly not suggesting that there was anything nefarious at work here, but this is the second year in a row Mercer County has taken a hit on a day we can all agree is the Super Bowl of events on the governmental calendar.

As for communications, they were poor to say the least. The most honest communication we received was the one our Clerk Michele Seigfried received at approximately 4:30 p.m. from the County Clerk on Wednesday, Nov. 9 informing her via telephone that our District 5 ballots had gone missing.

Again, this goes back to deep concerns over chain of custody. The ballots were obviously misplaced, but not one person at the Board of Elections ever came back and explained to us what happened, when or why. Even more egregious is none of the hard-working and diligent employees in our Clerk’s office, or any of our elected officials, received a call that our ballots were located.

Once we found out the ballots were misplaced, we almost immediately informed our residents—just as we did within an hour after polls opened telling them very early in the process that there was a problem with either the ballots or the machines.

Although we did not hear from the Board of Elections, we did receive calls from other mayors throughout the County that our ballots were found. How could a handful of mayors find the time to call us, but no one at the Board of Elections thought to extend that basic courtesy; we could even argue that was a requirement considering the circumstances.

If you want something to reek of politics, bring other mayors into the loop, but leave out one of the mayors most directly impacted.

In Robbinsville we preach “don’t just bring us the problem, bring some solutions with you.”

So, what can we do to fix this? There are other counties which managed to run a clean process and were able to have functioning ballots, working machines, a proper chain of custody and were able to count all of their ballots not days later, not weeks later, but on election night.

We should look to those other counties to see who is doing it the best and replicate their process. There is no reason to reinvent the wheel here. We all know who those counties are, so let’s mirror what is working in other parts of New Jersey.

Why did this happen and how do we prevent it from happening in the future?

If there is a process, somehow it was not followed in Mercer County. We need to re-examine that process and hold people accountable for the creation of the ballot, the testing of the ballot, the mass printing of the ballot, the ability of the machines to properly scan those ballots and, finally, the chain of custody and counting of those ballots. We understand the original ballots were tested, but were they properly examined and re-tested after being mass produced by the printing company?

Either the Dominion machines did not work, or the ballots were printed incorrectly, and the machines did their jobs exactly perfect and correctly spit them out as invalid.

The bottom line is for the second year in a row the Mercer County election system has been proven flawed, to say the very least.

As embarrassing and frustrating as Election Day was for towns such as Robbinsville and Princeton, we’re quite certain it was just as embarrassing and frustrating for every municipality in the County.

We have spent millions of dollars on these machines and ballots, and they clearly did not work as advertised. It is time to reassess and come up with a better system.

A full, transparent and independent investigation needs to be undertaken and changes implemented so that what we endured the past two years never happens again.

Dave Fried is the mayor of Robbinsville Township

mayors column

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