New Jersey To Let 'Displaced' Voters Use Electronic Voting… If They Give Up Secrecy & Return A Hardcopy

from the details,-details dept

Given the still ongoing recovery from Hurricane Sandy in the northeast, New Jersey has decided to deal with potential problems with Tuesday’s election by declaring that “displaced” voters can qualify to submit ballots the same way overseas members of the armed services can — via email or fax, followed up with a hardcopy. They’re also allowing early voting, more provisional voting and absentee voting, but the ability to submit by email is generating plenty of attention. Some, like professor Richard Hasen, who is an “election law” expert, worries about the security of such a system, and whether or not ballots could get hacked or lost. Professor Andrew Appel, who has done work with e-voting systems in the past, worries about two things. First, the loss of the secret ballot when you vote this way:

We see already one problem: The loss of the secret ballot. At many times in the 20th century, NJ political machines put such intense pressure on voters that the secret ballot was an important protection. In 2012 it’s in the news that some corporations are pressuring their employees to vote in certain ways. The secret ballot is still critical to the functioning of democracy.

But, he’s also worried about the unclear nature of the announcement (pdf), in which it is not emphasized that anyone who votes this way must also submit a hardcopy. He notes that the directive about allowing displaced voters to vote this way left out the line about submitting the hardcopy, and the law is not clear what happens to votes where the hardcopy is not sent as well. The fear then, is that these votes will wind up in court.

Then things really get murky: The statute doesn’t say what happens if the hardcopy is not received, except that the county superintendent of elections must investigate. It’s not difficult to imagine that these ballots will end up in court.

I urge the Lieutenant Governor to issue a revised order, clarifying that displaced voters must immediately follow up by mailing hardcopy identical to their e-mailed ballot–or risk having their votes thrown out.

It does sound like officials in New Jersey now understand this and intend to be much clearer about it, but it is raising reasonable concerns.

Finally, well-known e-voting critic (and New Jersey resident) Ed Felten has actually taken a much more “it’s not great, but given the situation, it’s okay” type of position.

I am in no way a fan of online voting. Just last week I hosted an online symposium where experts talked about the many barriers to secure online voting. But under these circumstances I can understand why the State has taken the steps it has. The email+hardcopy approach will undermine ballot secrecy, and inevitably some voters will forfeit their votes by failing to submit the follow-on hardcopy ballot correctly. But at the same time, the state is allowing citizens who are facing a tough situation a greater chance to cast their votes. I would strongly oppose any long-term move toward online voting, but I can see the point of allowing limited email+hardcopy voting for displaced voters under these very unusual circumstances.

If the voting in New Jersey turns out weird tomorrow, the conspiracy theories are never going to stop…

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Comments on “New Jersey To Let 'Displaced' Voters Use Electronic Voting… If They Give Up Secrecy & Return A Hardcopy”

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Anonymous Coward says:

‘The secret ballot is still critical to the functioning of democracy.’

and why the hard copy is being requested is so it isn’t a secret ballot any more. democracy may well still be functioning, but it’s barely doing so and i doubt for much longer. democratic governments everywhere are becoming more like those they supposedly despise. no one outside of government and big business is allowed privacy and as for any of the freedoms that our forefathers fought so hard for, they are being eroded, rejected and dispelled on a daily basis.

Forest_GS (profile) says:

I think using e-mail as the base of a voting system would be foolproof. The front-end would only accept properly formatted e-mails and process the text in the e-mail, making it impossible to hack the system…unless the system that verifies the e-mail votes is connected to the internet. There are ways to make it so it cannot send any data, it would be much harder to hack a system that doesn’t send data because the hacker wouldn’t know what did what.

By properly formatted e-mails, I mean the voting office would provide a template for the voters to put the data in.

snowburn14 says:

Re: Re: Re:

I sincerely doubt anyone was proposing that the identity/voting eligibility be determined by the email address that (appeared to have) sent the ballot in. Last I checked, my email addresses weren’t registered with the government anywhere (unless the IRS keeps a database that includes the address I gave for e-filing refund status)

That said, I’m curious how they *would* verify eligibility and one person/one vote criteria. Trying to do that in person without requiring what amounts to a poll tax has always seemed a tricky tight-rope walk to me. Doing it online would make it more of a tight-string…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I’m pretty sure that I don’t really understand your proposal fully, but…

I think using e-mail as the base of a voting system would be foolproof

Email is just a transport mechanism, like any other. Except that it is one of the least secure ones, as email is incredibly easy to spoof.

The front-end would only accept properly formatted e-mails and process the text in the e-mail, making it impossible to hack the system

How would this make it impossible to hack the system. BTW, as a computer security professional, let me assure you that there’s no such thing as a system that is impossible to to hack.

The solution to make the system hack-resistant (hack-proof is impossible, but that’s not because the internet or computers are involved. The traditional systems aren’t hack-proof either) is encryption.

No system that relies on a shared secret, particularly not an easy-to-determine-and communicate secret such as the format of an email, is secure.

(For the pedants out there, one time pads are best-case shared secrets and mostly secure, assuming that the pads themselves can be communicated securely and that they are truly random. Those two conditions are really hard to achieve, though.)

Alec Perkins (user link) says:

Given how chaotic things have been here (Hoboken) following Hurricane Sandy, I am very impressed with what the state and city are doing to ensure that everyone gets the opportunity to vote. Some polling places were severely damaged or destroyed, and thousands of people are still away from their homes. Transportation into the city is still very difficult for many. Reinventing the polling system in a matter of days, while cleaning up from a hurricane, is not easy.

Stinky Winkle says:

sort of makes sense, but it is messy

People say “I actually want to vote, but I can’t because I can’t get home. Why can’t I just email you?”

State says “Erm, yeah, ok. But how do I know that it’s really you emailing? We don’t have time to set up a proper online system now. We don’t want to be sued for disenfranchising people.”

People say “So is that a yes or a no?”

State says “Well, OK, you can do it, as long as you sign and send a piece of paper your voting card confirming that it was you who voted and that you won’t sue us if we get it wrong.”

What I don’t understand is, if they need the hard copy in the post, why they don’t just use postal voting instead?

Anonymous Coward says:

New Jersey seating...

If the voting in New Jersey turns out weird tomorrow, the conspiracy theories are never going to stop…

If anybody’s wondering, listed Obama at +11.6% and the Senate race with Menendez(D) is at +14%. These offices can be described as “Safe Democratic”.

Wikipedia shows that New Jersey has 13 congressional seats. Currently 6 Democrats and 6 Republicans hold these seats. One seat is vacant when Donald Payne(D) passed way in March.

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