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…