New Jersey was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, and many parts of the state still lack electricity and basic infrastructure. Countless residents have been displaced, at least temporarily. And election day is on Tuesday. There can be little doubt that many New Jerseyans, whether newly displaced or rendered homebound, who had originally intended to cast their votes at their normal neighborhood polling stations will be unable to do so next week. Unless some new flexible voting options are made available, many people will be disenfranchised, perhaps altering the outcome of races. There are compelling reasons for New Jersey officials to act quickly to create viable, flexible, secure and reliable voting options for their citizens in this emergency.
A few hours ago, Gov. Christie announced that voters unable to reach their normal polling places would be permitted to vote by electronic mail. The directive, outlined here [pdf], allows displaced registered voters to request a “mail in” ballot from their local county clerk by email. The voter can then return the ballot, along with a signed “waiver of secrecy” form, by email, to be counted as a regular ballot. (The process is based on one used for overseas and military voters, but on a larger scale and with a greatly accelerated timeframe.)
Does email voting make sense for New Jersey during this emergency? It’s hard to say one way or the other without a lot more information than has been released so far about how the system will work and how it will be secured.
The security implications of voting by email are, under normal conditions, more than sufficient to make any computer security specialist recoil in horror. Email, of course, is not at all authenticated, reliable, or confidential, and that by itself opens the door to new forms of election mischief that would be far more difficult in a traditional in-person polling station or with paper absentee ballots. If we worry that touchscreen “DRE” electronic voting machines might be problematic, email voting seems downright insane by comparison.
But a knee-jerk reaction to the worst case scenario is probably not helpful right now. Clearly, email voting is risky. The question is whether these risks outweigh the benefits, and whether the technical and procedural safeguards that are in place are adequate to mitigate them under these rather unique circumstances.
Unfortunately, New Jersey officials have not yet released enough information to allow for an informed analysis and judgement about whether the system will invite more problems than it solves on election day. And rolling out a robust email voting system across New Jersey’s 21 counties and at the scale required will involve solving some fundamentally difficult engineering problems.
Full Article: Matt Blaze: Voting by Email in New Jersey.