Many columnists write a “year in review” or a “predictions” piece for the New Year, however I decided to refrain from going down either of those paths and instead decided to revisit two topics which though relatively low profile at this point in time do have the potential to pack a significant wallop in the not too distant future.
Voting Machines – Over the course of the past 18 months I have managed to casually collect 45 different newspaper articles regarding the Sequoia Voting Machines, touch screen machines, in use in New Jersey. Now, I say casually because I was not trawling the net looking for stuff, but rather, just saving those that came my way while reading the dailies. The latest came out of the Gannett State Bureau on December 22 and spoke of a deadline to have the voting machines produce a paper trail and the inability for New Jersey to meet that deadline. A bill to extend the date for a third time was defeated in the State Senate and voted down by Republicans as well as Democrats I am happy to say. I think Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex said it best when she questioned why we here in NJ seem to think that we can fix something that everybody knows doesn’t work. And Republican Sen. Bill Baroni summed it up with “You can’t fix it. Let it go away.”
Union County’s own County Clerk Joanne Rajoppi (D) sounded an alarm regarding the Sequoia touch-screen machines in use here when after the Presidential Primary in February the numbers didn’t jibe on a Union County machine. Rajoppi went so far as to urge residents to vote by absentee ballot, which voters mark with pen and ink to ensure that their vote counted this past November in the Presidential election. Rajoppi also told the Star Ledger that if any abnormalities in the numbers were detected again on Election Day she would not certify her elections. To her credit Ms Rajoppi has not let the issue go by the wayside and she will find herself front and center as a champion for the little guy, which is not a bad place for her to be come reelection time. However, it appears that her concerns and actions are pure which can only be viewed as totally refreshing considering the length of time she has been on the political scene.
NJ Gov. Jon Corzine recently said that “this is a huge budget issue” and to move to using different voting mechanisms such as an optical scan system could cost as much as $80 million. However Irene Goldman of the Coalition for Peace Action, which sued the state over the lack of a voting paper trail, challenged that figure saying that it would cost between $36 and $40 million to switch to an optical scan system. She stated that more than 20 states have executed such a change, some within a few months. Certainly a worthy cause and the only thing that we each basically take to our graves, in most counties anyway, is our right to vote for the candidate of our true choice and not that that has been preordained by some electronic ‘wild thing’ stored in a mostly unguarded warehouse.
Anyone who has had their name on a ballot in New Jersey the past few years can relate how they felt the first time that they heard that there could possibly be a problem with the touch screen voting machines. Not only have issues been reported with the machines’ operations on Election Day, but we have also heard that the machines could be easily tampered with and the question raised; are they really kept secure prior to their use? A Princeton professor doesn’t believe so, he believes that the seals can be opened with a simple screw driver and computer chips changed in a total of 7 minutes by even a novice computer geek. The news certainly is not very comforting to any candidate or proponent of a public ballot question. But, it would be commendable if some governing bodies be they county freeholders or municipalities take a position in support of their county clerks, like Rajoppi, and request an end to this seemingly endless and unnecessary debacle.
Hospital Closings – Specifically Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center in Plainfield – There appear to be some issues left unanswered regarding the closing of this medical institution which served the residents of the City of Plainfield for 130 years. In April of 2006 John McGee, President of Solaris Health Systems, testifying at a Senate Budget Committee hearing referred to Muhlenberg Hospital along with the Plainfield Health Center as “the healthcare safety nets for a medically underserved community” yet a short time later Solaris petitioned to and was allowed to close the hospital. Did this make sense?
An interesting side story associated with the closing of Muhlenberg is that of Assemblyman Jerry Green, who has dabbled in a variety of business ventures including the ownership of a liquor store or two in his time. Green it seems found himself in the awkward position as a probable lobbyist for hire. When Green was a Vice President of The Alman Group, Solaris Health Systems, the organization which owned and ultimately closed Muhlenberg Hospital down, was a client of this Westfield consulting firm. Oddly it appeared that Jerry did not include the Alman Group on his financial disclosures but rather showed income from “Jerry Green Enterprises”, whatever that is, even though his bio appeared as a consultant on the Alman Group’s website. When word got out that Green was affiliated with the Alman Group, that Solaris was a client and that they were definitely moving forward with the hospital’s closure, Green let it be known that he was immediately severing his relationship with the consulting firm assuring anyone who listened, including the major news outlets, that his association with the firm was almost non-existent anyway so pay it no mind. Also, please note that a review of NJ Elect campaign reports shows contributions from some of Solaris’ principal players to the Green/Stender campaigns. These contributions certainly cast a questionable hue on what side Gerry’s bread is buttered. Meanwhile back at the ranch in Trenton, Green chairs the important legislative committee, Housing and Local Government Services and sits on the Health and Senior Services Committee which concentrates on hospital, school and community related issues. In 2008 the hospital did close its doors transferring many of its major healthcare services to its sister facility also owned by Solaris, JFK in Edison, leaving the City of Plainfield without a hospital.
The question in a nutshell here is had the assemblyman in an effort to “please” everyone actually been lobbying himself, in this case using his influence, while in the “employ” of the Alman Group, in an effort to obtain state monies for the financially failing Muhlenberg Medical Center? Was Solaris Health Systems, one of Greens clients while at the Alman Group and just what did he do for them anyway especially when they were planning, it now seems, to shutter Muhlenberg? And is it true that Green obtained “Christmas Tree” grants for Plainfield, and will the revelations during the Wayne Bryant corruption trial of how these so called grants were said to be distributed come back to kick some legislators in the posterior to include Green? Because of the frenzy at the time of the hospital’s closing the light was only shined briefly on these behind the scenes goings on, it is a sure bet that as time goes on and the stars start to align themselves in a more organized fashion answers to these and other questions will be popping up for the taking. With Plainfield clamoring for an acute care facility to provide access to adequate rather than scant medical care for this urban community this stuff is bound to resurface again only this time there will be those who will not let things slide.
The touch screen voting machines and the hospital closing in Union County are just two of the stories that have not yet been laid to rest and fall into the category
of “It ain’t over till its over.”
Jan. 2, 2009 NY Times Editorial Regarding Voting Machines.