New Jersey Officials: Displaced Sandy Victims May Vote By Email

By: - November 5, 2012 12:00 am

New Jersey voters displaced by Hurricane Sandy may cast their ballots using fax or email, state officials announced Saturday (November 3). It’s one of several changes to state voting procedures meant to accommodate New Jerseyians still struggling to pick up the pieces from last week’s superstorm.

“Despite the widespread damage Hurricane Sandy has caused, New Jersey is committed to working through the enormous obstacles before us to hold an open and transparent election befitting our state and the resiliency of its citizens,” Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno said.

Under a directive issued by Guadagno, displaced storm victims qualify as “overseas voters,” meaning they may request — either through mail, fax or email — a ballot application. If that person is eligible to vote, the county clerk will send a ballot, along with a secrecy waiver.

Voters have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to submit electronic ballot applications. The deadline to cast those ballots is three hours later. Mail-in ballots, meanwhile, must be postmarked on or before Monday and received by November 19.

Displaced voters may also cast provisional ballots at any polling place throughout the state, Guadagno said in a separate directive.

But it’s the prospect of online voting that has caused the biggest stir among elections watchers — and sparked concern among some cybersecurity experts.

“The security implications of voting by email are, under normal conditions, more than sufficient to make any computer security specialist recoil in horror,” Matt Blaze, a computer scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote Sunday on his blog. “Email, of course, is not at all authenticated, reliable, or confidential, and that by itself opens the door to new forms of election mischief that would be far more difficult in a traditional in-person polling station or with paper absentee ballots. If we worry that touchscreen ‘DRE’ electronic voting machines might be problematic, email voting seems downright insane by comparison.”

New Jersey has allowed voting by email in the past, but that’s applied only to its small subset of overseas and military voters. Now officials must dramatically expand the scale of those efforts, with just days to do it.

The state’s decision comes just days after the National Association of State Chief Information Officers released a report detailing states’ struggles to stave off millions of complex threats to the security of their computer systems each week. Government agencies have lost more than 94 million citizen records since 2009, the report says.  

Among several of his concerns, Blaze wonders how elections officials will ensure the integrity of an emailed ballot. “Email messages themselves have no intrinsic protection against modification, forgery, copying or deletion when in transit, and, unlike paper absentee ballots, are not physical documents that can be protected with locks, seals and guards once received,” he wrote.

But do those risks overshadow the obvious benefits of expanding voting access to those who may not have other options on Election Day? New Jersey officials haven’t released enough details to make that call, Blaze says.

New Jersey is one of several states aiming to accommodate Sandy victims in the lead up to Election Day, as Stateline has reported.

On Sunday, New York elections officials announced they would relocate 60 polling sites. State law allows counties to request an extra day of voting if turnout is below 25 percent “as a direct consequence” of a disaster such as Sandy.

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