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November 07, 2012

Problems Plague New Jersey's E-Mail Voting Option, Deadline to Submit Ballots Extended

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor

There were numerous problems reported with e-voting technology on America’s Election Day – though the most embarrassing snafu may have been New Jersey’s attempt to let storm victims vote by e-mail or fax.

Eventually, New Jersey officials chose to extend the deadline to submit absentee ballots until Friday.

“This is an unprecedented disaster," Essex County Clerk Chris Durkin told the Montclair Times. “The decision to allow email and fax ballots was made on Saturday night, without any provisions such as adding additional email addresses or increasing storage capacity."



Image via Shutterstock

"People will be disenfranchised because of this unprecedented disaster," he added.

New Jersey was the first state to allow electronic voting for a large portion of its electorate, ABC News said, after Hurricane Sandy left a path of destruction last week.

Many of the newest forms of voting technology require electricity or battery back-up for machines to work, TMCnet reported.

Despite the numerous problems, only a limited number of New Jersey voters were impacted. For example, Carl Block, county administrator for Ocean County, predicted that problems with electronic voting would affect less than 50,000 voters in New Jersey.

ACLU spokeswoman Katie Wang told Bloomberg (News - Alert) Businessweek that at least 1,500 people never got a reply from election officials in New Jersey after attempting to vote.

Many voters also complained on social media that they never got an absentee ballot from officials or could not even make contact with local clerks’ offices in New Jersey, the Newark Star-Ledger reported.

One major problem was the sheer number of requests by residents via e-mail to get their ballots. Officials said a request which came via e-mail or fax took up to 15 minutes to process.

In New Jersey’s Hudson County, for instance, the county clerk got more than 2,000 requests for e-mail ballots by Tuesday morning. And then the clerk chose to stop processing the requests.

In Essex County, voters seeking absentee ballots often got busy fax lines, or had their e-mail rejected because inboxes were full.

Also, after the government e-mail account to submit requests got filled in Bergen County, residents were told to use  cj_durkin@hotmail.com, the county clerks’ personal e-mail address, which led to various security and privacy concerns.

"The state didn't give us enough time to prepare," Morris County Clerk Joan Bramhall told NJ.com.

Some voters were concerned that they did not get a confirmation for their e-mailed ballot, leaving them wondering if it will be counted.

Given the issues, New Jersey officials on Election Day decided to extend the deadline to return e-mail ballots until 8 p.m. on Friday.

However, a judge in Essex County rejected a request by the ACLU to let New Jersey voters use a federal version of the absentee ballot.

It was also reported that almost 100 of New Jersey’s 3,000 polling locations were relocated because of power outages or storm damage. Some polling locations were using generators for power.

There were other problems reported nationwide with electronic-voting machines.

For example in Pennsylvania, an e-voting machine changed one person’s vote from Obama to Romney. Similar problems were reported elsewhere, such as in North Carolina.  “In Greensboro...at the Bur-Mil Park, a voter complained that they tried to vote for Mitt Romney three times but that the ballot cast was instead for Barack Obama,” Computerworld reported.

In a related matter, a federal judge did not prevent election officials in Ohio from using new election EXP software to “format vote totals and transmit them to the Secretary of State's Office,” The Christian Science Monitor reported. There were concerns that use of the software could lead to a “back door” that “someone might exploit to alter vote totals,” The Monitor added. Bob Fitrakis, a Green Party candidate for Congress, attempted to get the temporary injunction.

It was not clear as of Wednesday whether the problems with electronic voting machines or with e-mail or fax submissions of ballots would lead to legal challenges.

President Barack Obama got at least 303 Electoral College votes Tuesday, based on recent news reports. To win, a candidate needs to capture at least 270 electoral votes.




Edited by Brooke Neuman
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