Right now, the East Coast is still recovering from Hurricane Sandy and the destruction she wrought. New Jersey in particular was hard-hit, forcing boards of elections to think quickly: how can people vote if they’ve been displaced?
Answer: They can fax their votes, or vote online. From The Atlantic:
“Less than a week after the storm — and just three days before Election Day — New Jersey officials have announced that they will allow those displaced from their homes and first responders to submit their votes by email or fax. A directive issued by Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno officially designated displaced New Jersey residents as “overseas voters,” thus giving them the electronic voting option already available to New Jersey residents serving in the military. In addition, displaced voters and first responders may also vote by provisional ballot at any New Jersey polling location.”
The voters who wish to vote this way must first fax or e-mail a request to the board of elections, who will determine their eligibility for this voting method. Voters must then fill out a “waiver of secrecy” before the board of elections decide whether to send them a ballot or not.
While I think this is a fantastic idea for those displaced and wishing to vote, I find it fascinating that the option is even being offered. Yes, voters in New Jersey should be able to vote. There obviously needs to be a Plan B for voting methods, since so many have been displaced by the storm and so many polling stations don’t have power. And fax and online voting is far more convenient than trying to get to a polling place – well, e-mail is; faxing you might have to find a FedEx store.
There is certainly some sort of security in place for these votes, but how is e-mailing a vote truly secure?
A major talking point of this election cycle has been voter fraud and disenfranchisement – it may well be remembered for how many people were thrown off the voter rolls, and how many votes have been shut out because of partisan infighting and gerrymandering. Polls are being closed for no reason in Miami-Dade County, early voting hours are being slashed across the country, Voter ID laws are springing up in swing states and students were almost thrown off voter rolls because they didn’t put down a dorm room number on their registration.
And obviously, the Internet creates a lot of opportunity for fraud. From Politico:
“One of the chief concerns is that even the minimal cybersecurity standards that would be necessary aren’t yet in place to avoid fraud — like voting multiple times or letting spammers clog the system to prevent people from voting.
Thad Hall, co-author of five books on voting technology including “Point, Click and Vote: The Future of Internet Voting.” “They’re going to happen in spite of the best efforts of elections officials. And it’s made worse because in our current two-party country, the losing side is more than willing to claim fraud these days instead of just saying, ‘I lost.’”
It seems that the e-mail vote option is being allowed for two reasons. First, because it is the most feasible option for those who are displaced – military personnel stationed overseas have been using this method for a few years now. Second is because of New Jersey’s tendency to vote Democratic. The Atlantic said it best: “If New Jersey were a swing state, this would have been a much dicier maneuver.”
New Jersey is a densely populated and highly urbanized “blue state,” and its 14 electoral votes have gone to the Democratic candidate for the last 10 years – it has voted blue every election since Clinton was elected in 1992, and by looking at current polling, New Jersey will continue the streak. But if a swing state like Virginia had been hit by the hurricane and had offered this option to voters, there would be an uproar.
Clearly, this voting method isn’t the ideal for New Jersey, or for any state for that matter. And there will always be security concerns with online voting and fraud, especially where technology is concerned. But to be optimistic for a moment, in the aftermath of such a terrible storm, maybe this “fax and e-mail” election in New Jersey can a testing ground for future voting – if this works well there, and security measures can be put in place to keep voters safe and elections honest (well, as honest as elections can be), maybe this hurricane voting Plan B can become a more convenient, inclusive and accessible voting method for elections to come.