A natural disaster the size and scope of superstorm Sandy on the eve of a presidential election poses significant challenges for election officials in the affected areas.
Hoping to ensure that Garden State residents displaced by last month’s storm will still have their votes counted, New Jersey Lt. Gov. and Chief Election Official Kim Guadagno is allowing votes to come in via fax and email.
Submitting ballots via email, typically only allowed for military service personnel stationed overseas, usually requires a paper ballot as well. According to election integrity experts, this step ensures that ballots submitted electronically can be verified to ensure they were not tampered with during transmission.
But election experts call voting via email the most insecure form of electronic voting, and urge New Jersey voters to take advantage of other methods instead.
Pam Smith is the president of the non-partisan Verified Voting Foundation, a group devoted to the integrity of elections as voting moves into the digital age. Smith cautions against sidestepping protections put in place to safeguard the sanctity of the vote, even in the wake of a disaster like Hurricane Sandy.
"We have very high praise for all of the states that have been impacted. There's been so much to do and so much to deal with, and we appreciate the efforts to make sure every voter can vote,” Smith explained in a Nov. 5 press briefing. “We just want to make sure that every voter's vote gets counted the way that they intended it."
Princeton Computer Science Professor Andrew Appel outlined some of the key vulnerabilities of voting via email, citing concerns with security, and the ease with which spammers can gain access and alter data en route to election officials.
“Email voting is completely untrustworthy and insecure unless it's backed up by a paper ballot that the voter signs and mails in,” Appel said.
In neighboring New York, State Board of Elections Co-Chair Doug Kellner echoed concerns about voting via email, adding that the option is not being considered in his state.
”There is a consensus among the senior election officials in New York that procedures that allow delivery of voted ballots by fax or email are completely insecure -- that they're hackable and that they're not verifiable,” Kellner said.
According to Kellner, election officials are relocating 60 New York polling places impacted by flooding and other damage related to the storm. New sites were strategically chosen in close proximity to original voting locations. Officials are notifying citizens of the changes, and making arrangements for supplemental transportation, where necessary.
Verified Voting urges New Jersey voters to cast their vote using a provisional ballot, which is available from any polling place in the state. Voting integrity groups are hopeful that the directive from Lt. Gov. Guadagno’s office will be modified to require a printed backup ballot.
Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.