Emergency measures intended to allow people to vote in the days immediately following Hurricane Sandy violated state law, concludes a highly-critical report released today by the Rutgers School of Law in Newark. The study said those measures—which included allowing people to request mail-in ballots by fax and email—led to mass confusion, overwhelming many county clerks on election day. According to Penny Venetis, the co-director of the Constitutional Rights Clinic at Rutgers School of Law-Newark who authored the report, the internet and fax voting hastily put in play by the state in the wake of the storm was not only was illegal, but also left votes vulnerable to online hacking. “Internet voting should never be permitted, especially in emergencies when governmental infrastructure is already compromised,” she said in her report. A spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, however, said the law school’s findings ignored everything the state did in making sure as many people as possible had an opportunity to vote under what were extreme circumstances. “The truth is that as a state, we were dealing with a disaster and catastrophic damage,” said the spokesman, Michael Drewniak. “We should be lauded for what we were able to do.”
The November 2012 Presidential election, which came just eight days after Sandy struck New Jersey on Oct. 29, knocked out power to 2.4 million homes and businesses in New Jersey. The superstorm displaced an estimated 161,000 families, damaging or destroying thousands of homes. At the same time, polling places across the state—many in public buildings with no power or in some cases, no walls—were no longer available to voters.
Five days before Election Day, the Secretary of the State and New Jersey’s top election official—Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno—began issuing a series of emergency voting measures to allow the vote to proceed on schedule. The report noted those measures included an extension of the deadline by which ballots would be processed, an expansion of the hours of operation at polling sites, and notification to the public about changes in voting procedures.
But Venetis said other measures, including Guadagno’s unilateral implementation of email and fax voting made voting severely vulnerable to fraud and violated state law. “You can’t vote by internet. You can’t ask people to send their Social Security numbers through the email without secure servers,” she said. “You can’t implement something as an emergency measure that is clearly illegal.”