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How Not to Roll Out Electronic Voting In Your State

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, November 6 2012

What a mess.

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno announced over the weekend that people displaced by Hurricane Sandy and unable to vote in their home districts should be considered "overseas voters" for the purposes of the election, allowing them to email or fax in a ballot application through a procedure laid out by the Federal Voting Assistance Program.

Election law opens this door for overseas and military voters provided they sign a waiver of secrecy and mail along a paper ballot after the fact, and Guadagno issued an order pushing the deadline for mailed ballots to be received by county elections officials back to Nov. 19. But the order also appears to have created a lot of confusion over whether the mailed-in ballot was necessary.

"The voter must transmit the signed waiver of secrecy along with the voted ballot by fax or email for receipt by the applicable county board of election no later than November 6, 2012 at 8 p.m.," the order reads, right before announcing that mailed-in ballots are due Nov. 19.

Guadagno's spokesman told Politico last night that mailed-in ballots are, in fact, necessary. So, New Jersey voters: If you decide to Gmail your vote, remember to mail in a paper ballot after the fact.

As announcement of the vote-by-email move reached the ears of New Jersey voters, there was widespread confusion over whether the paper ballot was needed or not — and that wasn't even the worst problem. Attempts to get ballots by email were not successful. Elections experts observed that the confusion means some people who think they don't need to mail in a ballot after emailing or faxing in their electronic one will lose their vote.

And voting, that firmament of American democracy, is now using the same vehicle as Nigerian bank scams. BuzzFeed's Ben Smith reports that ballots for the good people of Essex County are now at the fickle mercy of Essex County Clerk C.J. Durkin's Hotmail inbox.

Nowhere is there a plain-English clarification of this issue on the front page of the New Jersey Division of Elections website, where — let me just go out on a limb and suggest — voters need and deserve to be able to find a simple explanation of how to make sure their vote is counted.

As Politico notes, this is an unfortunate debut for widespread electronic voting in the United States, cobbled together in a matter of days with what looks to be far more good intention than foresight.

New Jersey voters have another alternative. They can cast provisional ballots anywhere in the state, which means if they show up to any polling place, they can fill out ballots that will eventually be directed to their county elections official. The votes will then be counted after elections officials make sure the voters who cast them are eligible.

The New Jersey Division of Elections was unreachable by phone this morning. The phone line was busy.

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