Election officials from all 21 counties are gathering in one spot Tuesday for a first-of-its-kind New Jersey event aimed at making sure no problem is too big to overcome in the days surrounding Election Day.

The first statewide tabletop exercise by the Department of State, in partnership with the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, is taking over a hotel conference center in Princeton, testing election officials' responses to emergency situations that could arise pre-election, on the day of, and post-election.

If a county's response plan isn't efficient for a particular issue, the exercise serves as an opportunity for an office to learn what should be done, and the office can learn this lesson in a low-impact, low stress atmosphere, instead of in the middle of an actual emergency.

Robert Giles, director of the New Jersey Division of Elections, said officials at the event are being confronted with several hypothetical emergency scenarios known as "injects."

"A pretty broad example would be, you show up on Election Day and you don't have internet access," Giles said. "There'll be cyber incidents, police/fire-type incidents, natural disaster incidents."

Election officials from more than a dozen other states are participating as either facilitators or response evaluators. The event could see 400 attendees, including information technology and emergency management officials from each county.

"You don't want to meet your emergency management team on the day of the incident," Giles said. "You want to meet them ahead of time, you want to know them ... so in the event of an incident, you're ready and everybody knows what they need to do and where they need to go."

The Garden State participated in a national tabletop exercise about a year ago, and from that made a goal to improve each county's Continuity of Operations Plan. This event is an opportunity to test those plans, Giles said. With a plan on paper, counties can be better prepared should a lead official or administrator be absent on the day of an emergency.

County officials in attendance, Giles added, will pass on lessons from the event to clerks at the municipal level.

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