New Jersey's Vote-by-Email Meltdown

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The state has decided to extend email voting for those displaced by the storm until Friday, after too many people have been unable to submit their ballots.

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Reuters

When New Jersey announced over the weekend that it would allow voters displaced by the storm to vote by email or fax, many people were concerned about the possibility of hacking or other vote-tampering. "E-mail voting is insecure because it's hard to authenticate the voter, the ballots can be intercepted and changed, and the computer servers that store them can be hacked," Bloomberg reported. Additionally, the plan had provoked confusion among voters, as at first the state said no paper ballot was necessary, and later reneged, saying a mailed-in paper confirmation was also required.

Critics were right to be concerned about the last-minute email-voting plan, but it wasn't hackers or confused voters that bear primary responsibility. Today the vote-by-email system melted down due to a far more pedestrian problem: overflowing inboxes. According to BuzzFeed's Ben Smith, email addresses of county clerks in Essex and Morris counties are bouncing messages back unread. (At least one clerk, Christopher Durkin of Essex, began directing residents to send their applications to a personal Hotmail address, which, Wired reported, was not exactly secure, since Durkin uses his mother's maiden name as a security question, a notoriously easy piece of information to dig up in public records.)

In response to the mess, New Jersey's Lieutenant Governor has released a statement saying, "It has become apparent that the County Clerks are receiving applications at a rate that outpaces their capacity to process them without an extension of the current schedule. Given this extraordinary volume, if a displaced voter can vote by other means, they are urged to do so." For those who can't, the state has extended its email-voting deadline to Friday at 8 p.m., but the requests for such a ballot are still due today at 5, raising questions about what people will do if their emails keep bouncing -- that is, if they can't find a working fax machine.

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Rebecca J. Rosen is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where she oversees the Business Channel. She was previously an associate editor at The Wilson Quarterly.

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