Voting by email in hurricane-damaged N.J. could cause major migraine | Commentary | -- Your State. Your News.

Apr 26th
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Voting by email in hurricane-damaged N.J. could cause major migraine

hayneMichael080311_optBY MICHAEL HAYNE

For the rest of the world (we in New Jersey and NYC allow you on our planet), soaking up all that fancy 19th century electricity in their homes as storm weary N.Y. and N.J. are still sitting in the dark and cold (this comic/writer just got power back today), your swing-state may not be what everyone is watching.

Even though N.J. has historically served as a landslide state and political ATM state, where party nominees drop in on the state only to garner donations for its campaign coffers from the state's vastly wealthy citizens and interest groups, and where you pay to eat crap but get to buy access to the candidate and hopefully he remembers you (depends on the size of your donation), the whole country may instead be focusing on New Jersey--not Ohio. Okay, so maybe the bland but increasingly politically important state of Ohio or Florida will be the crown prize of the Obama and Romney campaigns but voting irregularities and the potential for electoral fraud just shot up in New Jersey.

Over the weekend, Governor Christie (see his sweatshirt) announced that he was doing something rather bold in allowing New Jersey citizens to vote by fax (that loud, bulky machine that most of use to store our tablets in) and email in response to the widespread damages and flooding left over from Hurricane Sandy that sadly has rendered hundreds of polling locations across the state unavailable. After all, we do everything on our computer. So wouldn't it be nice to be able to decide who will be obstructed by Congress for next four years using the very same tool used to forward funny animal memes, and get spammed with hack jokes by your uncle? Well, that 21st century convenience may not be so great for the health and integrity of our increasingly compromised and bought democracy as computer scientists smell an opportunity for electoral fraud.

"You must have a paper ballot backup,"said Penny Venetis, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark, according to the Statehouse Bureau."What's puzzling is that the lieutenant governor's directives allow Internet voting without requiring this protection that is necessary to ensure the integrity of the vote."

Voters who opt to use the uber cool and convenient option evidently must go through the arduous task of printing, signing and scanning a physical ballot. Upon doing so, they must then send it to their county clerk via email. A lot of New Jersey, including many municipalities in Ocean County, are still without power, which means unless they have either a standalone generator or whole house generator powering their homes and thus routers, they won't even have the opportunity to get online. And there's not just the issue of connectivity and server problems, but external hardware (printers, faxes) difficulties presenting themselves. Most important, it seems that hackers can forge those ballots or signatures, submit fraudulent votes and then wipe their tracks online, according to Andrew Appel, a computer science professor at Princeton University.

"Voters' emails can be modified or interfered with — without their knowledge — coming into the county election computers," Appel told the Statehouse Bureau. "Email voting is completely untrustworthy and insecure unless it's backed up by paper ballots that a voter signs and sends in."

And Doug Kellner, co-chairman of the New York State Board of Elections, seemed to feel that the risks of email ballots were too great.

"Especially in this type of emergency, when there's a lack of electrical service, there's a question of fairness for those who are on the other side of the digital divide," Kellner said to the Statehouse Bureau. "There are those who do not have electricity or the resources to power a printer."

But a spokesman for Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno cited no irregularities with email ballots since 2008, which were used for members of the military and citizens living abroad. But given the unique nature of the newly implement email system, county officials will have to check ballots twice — before and after the election — to ensure there's no foul play.

With state-wide Republican efforts to suppress the vote in the form of voter id laws, false robo calls, and voter intimidation, voting in the the United States--an otherwise mundane and unproblematic volition--is almost akin to voting in Iran or Russia as partisans want power and will do anything to get it. So perhaps voting by email involves the same amount of risk as going to your polling place in Ohio or Florida. For uncertain voters in New Jersey who might be able to still get to their respective polling precincts, simply to text "where" to 877877 with your address and you'll immediately receive a response that contains your polling location.

Michael Hayne is a comedian/VO artist/Columnist extraordinaire, who co-wrote an award-nominated comedy, wrote for NY Times Laugh Lines, guest-blogged for Joe Biden, and writes a column for affiliated Cagle Media. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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