Storm-battered New Jersey’s first-in-the-nation decision to accept ballots by email is shaping up to be a model for how not to conduct Internet-based voting. The problems that arose — confusing rules, a laborious verification process and an ongoing tabulation headache — could invalidate many of the more than 10,000 ballots from people who believe they voted electronically. “My email began to run off the charts all day that Sunday, Monday and Tuesday,” Ocean County Clerk Scott Colabella said. “We were getting so many requests, we could not open them quickly enough, print out the applications and have our staff answer them all.”
Elections officials have been looking for better ways for Americans to vote to address the problems that have been highlighted in the elections from 2000 to 2012 — long lines, voting machine glitches and legal challenges. The Internet seems to be an inevitable answer, but New Jersey’s recent experience provides a mixed bag of lessons, many of them about what problems might arise.
New Jersey election officials insist they weren’t trying to be technological pioneers as they slapped together a way for residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy to participate on Election Day. And even critics give the state’s leaders kudos for trying something for its traumatized citizenry amid such extreme challenges.
But two weeks later, the results of Internet voting are still not tabulated — even though county election boards must certify the official outcomes by Tuesday at the latest. There are 75 local races in the state that are still too close to call, election monitors say.
The top problem is that state law required voters who submit ballots electronically to also send in the paper versions via postal mail. Yet several county clerks, as well as the executive director of the New Jersey Democratic Party, told POLITICO this week they didn’t know that, so it is likely thousands of voters are unaware as well.
Monday was the last day voters could mail in their paper ballots, so the process of matching them to electronically submitted ballots would be expected to begin Tuesday.