New Jersey’s emergency email voting option runs into problems

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy—with destruction of buildings, electrical lines and streets especially strong on the New Jersey coast—officials in that state decided to provide email and fax voting to the beleaguered residents. The state has extended to victims of the storm the same distance-voting rights members of the military and expatriates use.

It’s not working well.

The email addresses provided, both to request email ballots (which must be done by 5:00 PM today) and to send them in, are widely reported to be full, triggering a bounce. According to BuzzFeed, in two New Jersey counties, Morris and Essex, the county clerks’ email addresses are not receiving email. Essex County contains NJ’s largest city, Newark, and Morris County is adjacent to New York City.

In other counties, reports have surfaced that some of those who have succeeded in sending their ballots in via email without a bounce have not gotten confirmation that their votes have been received.

Some security experts have registered concerns about email voting, even when it goes as expected. Discovery News quoted Matt Blaze asking, “How will the emailed ballots be secured against tampering or loss? Email messages themselves have no intrinsic protection against modification, forgery, copying or deletion when in transit.”

Given the now-customary litigious phase after a major election, it would not be surprising to see the loser of today’s presidential election, and the losing sides in other races and measures, press their advantage in the courts. They may maintain that there are missing ballots and those ballots would have carried their candidate or cause over the line to victory.

Alternatively, as pointed up on the Freedom to Tinker blog by Prof. Andrew Apple of Princeton University, a case could be made that without the step of mailing in the original paper ballot, mandated by New Jersey’s Overseas Absentee Voting Law, all email and fax votes successfully sent in this way are legally invalid. Since Apple’s post, spokesmen for the New Jersey State Department have insisted that such instructions will be sent out, to validate the ballots.

Regardless, the email voting option will certainly provide grist to the mill that pumps out voter fraud conspiracies.

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Northeast Region/Flickr

Curt Hopkins

Curt Hopkins

Curt Hopkins has over two decades of experience as a journalist, editorial strategist, and social media manager. His work has been published by Ars Technica, Reuters, Los Angeles Times, and San Francisco Chronicle. He is the also founding director of the Committee to Protect Bloggers, the first organization devoted to global free speech rights for bloggers