MAYS LANDING — Prospective jurors may want to take a closer look the next time a summons to serve comes in the mail.
A pilot program that began recently in Atlantic County gives those called to jury duty the option of filling out the questionnaire online. The jury pool in court Monday was the first to have that option.
About 35 of the 96 people in Monday’s group had completed the online version, said jury management director Maria Waldman, who came up with the idea.
“I didn’t see it,” a few who hadn’t taken that option explained, despite the information being in large letters on the questionnaire.
The first summonses that allowed the online answering went out a month ago to those called for jury duty in Atlantic and Burlington counties.
“Burlington County apparently has more computer-savvy people than Atlantic,” Waldman said.
The return rate there started with about 5 percent of the jurors answering online. Atlantic County’s first batch only had a 1 percent rate on about 4,000 summonses, Waldman said.
But things have picked up.
All the upgrades were done in-house, Waldman said, saving what possibly could have been thousands of dollars if they used an outside vendor. She lauded the cooperation between all staff in getting it done.
“What’s nice about the new system is that data entry is done by the juror,” she said.
She looks over it to make sure everything is understood and to fix any typographical errors, then it goes into the system — the same old one that has the information the clerical staff enters from the paper questionnaires.
The timing is especially good as a large amount of summonses begin going out for the Atlantic City voter fraud trial. The case alleges that 14 people — including Atlantic City Councilman Marty Small — disenfranchised people during his failed run for mayor in 2009’s Democratic mayoral primary. Two people pleaded in the case, leaving 12 defendants for a trial set to begin jury selection Oct. 4.
Waldman has been asked to draw 10 jury panels with a pool of 500 people each, she said. About six panels have gone out, warning potential jurors that the trial could last about eight weeks.
The system will now roll out to other counties. A future upgrade will include accepting PDFs, so documents such as doctor’s notes excusing a juror can be sent.
“That will be enhancement we have for future,” Waldman said. “It’s just nice that we’re moving into technology and trying to think of ideas that cut costs down by trying to use resources we already have.”
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