Security experts warned that New Jersey’s plan for e-mail-based voting was a recipe for problems, and anecdotal evidence is starting to trickle in that the system isn’t working as well as organizers had hoped. One address used to request ballots was not even accepting e-mail late Tuesday morning. And in another county, an election official responded to problems with the county e-mail system by inviting voters to send ballot requests to his personal Hotmail address. The unfolding fiasco was first spotted by Buzzfeed, which notes that a number of voters have tweeted about having their e-mails to county voting officials bounce. “Oh no! email box for Essex County Clerk’s box is full. No one can email in their ballots,” tweeted one New Jersey voter last night. Essex County, NJ, is in the suburbs of New York and has nearly 800,000 residents. As one of the largest counties in the state, it is evidently struggling to keep up with the demand for e-mail ballots.
Aware of the problems with the official e-mail system, Essex County Clerk Christopher Durkin suggested an alternative option: “Displaced voters can email a request for a ballot at firstname.lastname@example.org,” according to a post on the Facebook page of the town of West Orange, NJ. Interestingly, security researcher Ashkan Soltani notes that Durkin’s Hotmail address has his mother’s maiden name as a “password recovery” question. This means that anyone who can figure out Durkin’s mother’s maiden name could seize control of his Hotmail account and intercept voters’ official ballot requests.
Morris County, NJ, was also experiencing problems this morning. The county’s election websiteinstructs voters to send ballot requests to ASMITH@CO.MORRIS.NJ.US. But when we sent email to that address seeking comment at 10:20 AM Eastern, we got a delivery failure notification from the County’s mail server.
Other voters have also reported problems. “Has anyone in Essex county been able to vote via email? I filled out the ballot and sent it in and I’ve been waiting for my email ballot which never came,” reported one voter on Facebook. The voter also reported that the county’s phone lines were too busy to get through.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, and some degree of improvisation was probably inevitable in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. But trying to create an e-mail-based voting system from scratch in under a week was probably not a good idea.