Two years ago this week New Jersey was ravaged by Superstorm Sandy, which left 8.2 million households without power in 15 states and the District of Columbia. The storm killed 34 people in New Jersey. Power outages throughout the state affected 2.4 million homes and businesses. The storm displaced roughly 61,000 families in New Jersey; 346,000 homes were damaged or destroyed and 22,000 housing units were rendered uninhabitable. Even today, not all New Jersey residents left homeless by Sandy have been able to return to their homes. In response to Sandy, which hit only eight days before the 2012 presidential election, Secretary of State Kim Guadagno, the state’s head election official, implemented five emergency voting measures, ostensibly to help people vote. As detailed in the Rutgers Law School Constitutional Rights Clinic’s report: “A Perfect Storm: Voting in New Jersey in the Wake of Superstorm Sandy,” published last week, the state’s emergency measures were misguided and illegal, and left millions of votes vulnerable to manipulation.
New Jersey: Emergency voting measures during Hurricane Sandy violated State law, inviting fraud, study finds | NJ.com
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.”
Hurricane Sandy prompted elected officials to consider many ideas to prepare for storms, as varied as building protective dunes and fortifying subway stops. Now politicians representing areas vulnerable to storms are also considering steps to protect something less obviously threatened by the weather: Election Day. The officials say they are responding to lessons learned during the 2012 presidential election, one week after Hurricane Sandy, when they were forced to scramble to relocate polling places and devise ways for displaced residents to vote. Many of their adjustments were conceived on the fly, and voting in New York and New Jersey was chaotic. “Voting is a fundamental American right, and all states should have a plan to ensure that even a serious man-made or natural disaster doesn’t interfere with that right,” said Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, who plans to introduce legislation to require states to develop disaster contingency plans for elections for federal offices.
New York: Board Of Elections Workers Unearth Hundreds Of Uncounted 2012 Ballots | New York Daily News
The New York City Board of Elections may insist every vote counts — but Tuesday, the oft-criticized agency admitted that not every vote has yet been counted in the 2012 general election. BOE workers recently unearthed more than 400 votes cast — but never tabulated — in the Hurricane Sandy-disrupted November election, Board President Frederic Umane confirmed at the board’s weekly meeting. The revelation means the city will have to update and certify the results of the 2012 vote yet again. “Doesn’t certification of the election ever finally end? Do they ever get to a final total?” Alan Flacks, a BOE gadfly who raised the issue before the commissioners Tuesday, said after the meeting. “They want to assure every voter — because of scandals in the past where ballots were not counted — that your vote is always counted,” Flacks told the Daily News. “I brought it up because I was upset that I found out that they discovered more uncounted ballots.”
When Superstorm Sandy wiped out a good chunk of the New Jersey shore just prior to the presidential elections last November, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration issued a directive allowing displaced citizens and first responders to vote electronically. Casting an email or fax vote may seem easy enough, but for some citizens and county election offices, the process wasn’t a walk in the park. Technology wasn’t a problem — procedures for voting electronically were already established so that military members and other overseas personnel could receive their ballots and vote by email. But preparing to receive votes from the general populace took around-the-clock efforts from county election staff already battered by the effects of Sandy. While the top of the ballots that contained federal election choices was already completed because of overseas voters, New Jersey counties had to extend those ballots to include the local races for each voter, which took time. But once that was done, sending out ballots and then qualifying people to vote electronically was a big challenge.
Holding a presidential election one week after a major storm has destroyed homes and knocked out power to much of your state may seem like a worst-case scenario, but the problems New Jersey experienced after Superstorm Sandy could have been much worse, a state elections official said Wednesday. “If the storm was a week later, we would not have been able to have a presidential election in New Jersey and parts of New York,” Robert Giles, director of New Jersey’s Division of Elections, said at a hearing before the Election Assistance Commission. “There’s nothing in place to address that. It’s always been, ‘Well, we’ll deal with it if it happens.’ Well, it almost did.”
New Jersey: Electronic voting after Sandy “A Complete Mess,” says senate president Sweeney | newjerseynewsroom.com
New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney said New Jersey’s county clerks were not properly prepared to handle the state’s requests for election ballots after Hurricane Sandy. Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno allowed state residents affected by the storm to vote through e-mail or fax. Sweeney says county clerks told him they received thousands of requests for ballots in days leading up to the election. “There was no communication with local elections officials,” Sweeney told the Huffington Post. “It was a complete mess.” A spokesman for Guadagno said the decision was necessary because of the devastation of the storm.
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.”
New Jersey: Slammed by Sandy, New Jersey counties seek more time to count ballots | Philadelphia Inquirer
Fourteen New Jersey counties, swamped with provisional and mail-in ballots in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, on Tuesday were granted more time to count. Those counties, including Burlington, Camden and Gloucester, have until next week to certify the results of the Nov. 6 election. That means a few close local races in towns such as Stratford, Laurel Springs, Delanco, Bordentown, and Moorestown will remain undecided a while longer. “Election offices are bombed here” because of overseas and provisional ballots, Camden County Election Commissioner Robert Venuti said Tuesday. The county has yet to start counting those ballots, he said.
New Jersey voters could cast their ballots starting 15 days before an election under legislation introduced today by Sen. Nia Gill, D-Essex. The bill creates an early voting system, which some legislators and election experts say could have reduced the confusion caused when superstorm Sandy hit a week before this year’s election. Polling places would be open for eight hours a day, seven days a week starting 15 days before Election Day. Early voting would end two days before the election. People who want to vote early would go to a polling place and cast their ballots just like they would on Election Day itself. The legislation would apply to primary and general elections.
Two weeks after Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc on the state and 10 days after the election, county election officials are still counting ballots, hoping to make their election certification deadline next Wednesday. Thanks to high voter turnout and an unprecedented set of voting opportunities, election officials in New Jersey’s 21 counties are trying to certify thousands of ballots cast by email and fax. “We followed the requirement that was set forth by the Lieutenant Governor,” said Robert Pantina, the Bergen County Clerk Chief of Staff. “The only reason for a rejection would be if the signatures did not match or if we couldn’t find the voter in the state registration system.”
Displaced victims of the storm-ravaged New Jersey coastline faced a new challenge on Tuesday, as their attempts to vote in person, by email, and by fax failed. New Jersey, at the last minute and prompted by the displacement of residents from superstorm Sandy, was the first state to ever allow electronic voting for a significant portion of its population. Other states have allowed some electronic voting for military members or overseas residents in the past. The effort in New Jersey on Tuesday, however, showed the difficulties of maintaining an orderly and efficient election when phone lines and inboxes are overwhelmed with voter requests. “This is an unprecedented disaster,” Essex County clerk Chris Durkin told the Montclair Times. “People will be disenfranchised because of this unprecedented disaster.”
As if voting by e-mail weren’t insecure enough, an election official in New Jersey has now instructed citizens who can’t get their ballots through to swamped government e-mail servers to send them instead to his personal Hotmail account, according to BuzzFeed. You read that right: Hotmail. For voting. The vote-by-e-mail idea came about as a result of the destruction leveled on New Jersey by Hurricane Sandy, and the concept by itself has some merit as a what-else-are-you-going-to-do emergency measure in a disaster zone.
A representative from the nonpartisan Election Protection Coalition told Roll Call this afternoon that there were reports of “massive confusion” in Pennsylvania, voting-machine problems in Ohio, long lines in southern Virginia, technical problems in Texas and difficulties in New Jersey. Tanya House, one of the attorneys working with the group, said there are reports that voters in Pennsylvania are showing up at the polls and being told they need photo identification, even though a recent court ruling delayed implementation of the commonwealth’s new voter ID law until after Election Day. Voters there were also receiving mailings as late as Friday that referenced the need for a photo ID. “Massive confusion in Pennsylvania,” House said. “The state did not do a good job about informing people that they do not have to show photo ID in order to vote. Poll workers are telling them they do and people are being turned away.”
In anticipation of the 2012 election, the Rockaway Youth Task Force proudly registered about 350 18- to 24-year-olds from the Rockaway Peninsula in Queens. But Milan Taylor, the group’s 23-year-old founder and president, doubts any of those newly registered voters will cast a ballot Tuesday. For those entering their second week stranded in the devastated Rockaways without heat or electricity, figuring out where the polling stations have been relocated to isn’t at the top of any to-do list. “We’re trying to convince people to get out and vote. We’ve printed out fliers with the new poll sites,” Taylor said. “But in reality, if you’re trying to figure out how to keep your family warm, voting might be the least of your priorities.”
New Jersey: E-voting chaos: New Jersey voters sent to official’s personal Hotmail address | Ars Technica
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…
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Monday New Yorkers affected by superstorm Sandy will be allowed to vote in Tuesday’s U.S. election in any polling place by presenting an affidavit. Cuomo said he was signing an executive order on Monday that will allow voters to cast ballots at voting stations other than the ones to which they are assigned.
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.
Hurricane Sandy spurred Maryland to suspend its early voting program for a second day on Tuesday and forced the closing of some early voting sites in battleground states like North Carolina and Virginia. But the bigger question that many state and county elections officials in storm-battered states were asking themselves was how to get ready for Election Day next week. The obstacles are formidable. More than 8.2 million households were without power by midday Tuesday, with more than a fifth of them in swing states — a potential problem in an age when the voting process, which once consisted of stuffing paper ballots into boxes, has been electrified. Roads were impassable in some states, and mass transportation was hobbled in others. And Postal Service disruptions threatened to slow the delivery of absentee ballots to election boards.
Election officials across the U.S. Northeast say they are determined to minimize disruption to Nov. 6 presidential voting in the region’s hardest-hit areas after super-storm Sandy knocked out power to 8 million customers. Officials are surveying damage and deciding how to conduct voting in areas without power. Service may not be restored for as long as 10 days to more than 2 million New York customers, mostly on Long Island and in New York City. Another 2.6 million customers in New Jersey and 627,000 in Connecticut were without electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Department.
If polling places along the East Coast are without power on Election Day, an Omaha company faces a powerful test. With much of the coast bracing for damage and prolonged power outages from the storm called Sandy, election officials and providers of voting equipment, including Omaha-based Electronic Systems & Software, spent Monday hashing out contingency plans, backup contingency plans and backup-backup contingency plans in case polling places remain without power on Nov. 6.
Slate has an Explainer on the possibility of a delay. The power to change election dates lies with the states, not with the president. “Although states may reschedule a canceled or suspended election at their discretion (or according to their individual election laws), they must choose their presidential electors by the “safe harbor” deadline, which is six days before the Electoral College votes,” L.V. Anderson writes. That deadline is Dec. 17.
Deadly Superstorm Sandy left millions of Americans snowed in, flooded out or stranded without power – and the federal government itself in Washington closed – just a week before voters across the country head to the polls. But if anyone is wondering whether Election Day will be put off, the answer is almost certainly no. Local U.S. elections have been postponed before – in one relatively recent example, New York put off voting that had been set for Sept. 11, 2001, because of the attacks on the country that day. But presidential balloting has always gone on, even during the Civil War in 1864 (President Abraham Lincoln was re-elected). Federal law mandates that the national vote must take place on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November every four years.
With less than a week to go until voters head to the polls, Pennsylvania officials say they’re working with county governments to ensure that after-effects from Hurricane Sandy won’t stop balloting from beginning Tuesday as planned. The Department of State is assessing what election-related obstacles may have been created by this week’s storm, with a report expected by today or Thursday. Counties that shut down their offices as the storm approached have been authorized to extend their absentee-ballot application deadlines to as late as Thursday evening.
Could the deadly Hurricane Sandy, headed for the East Coast, have an impact on the election? The storm is already affecting campaign schedules — Romney has canceled a planned rally in Virginia Beach. While the storm is expected to have passed by Nov. 6, it could leave flooding, power outages and destruction in its wake that would make it hard for voters to get to the polls. Two key states — Virginia and North Carolina — are in the path of the storm. So is Pennsylvania, a Democratic-leaning state that Republicans often eye. Rain showers and wind have already hit the coast of Florida. Parts of Ohio will feel the effects.
Could Hurricane Sandy lead to a constitutional crisis? Since 1845, Congress has mandated that the presidential election take place on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. But no one in the waning days of the Tyler administration anticipated a giant hurricane hitting the East Coast within a week of Election Day. In fact, there is no precedent whatsoever for a natural disaster of this scale before a federal election. A devastating storm, like Sandy, could produce several constitutional and legal crises if voting can’t take place on November 6.
With Hurricane Sandy expected to make landfall along the Mid-Atlantic Coast later today, many are wondering how this year’s election may be affected by this “perfect storm,” including even whether the Presidential election could be postponed. Although at this point it is simply too early to predict with any confidence how widespread any power outages will be or how other weather-related damage might affect voting on November 6, it may be helpful to identify key features of the laws concerning Election Day. First, with respect to a Presidential election, the U.S. Constitution provides that Congress “may determine the time of [choosing] the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.”
In the dark of night, when they get what little sleep they get these days, the people running the campaigns for president have more than enough fodder for nightmares. Worse, come daybreak, they realize their worst fears may yet come true. Dancing in their heads are visions of recounts, contested ballots and lawsuits. The possibility that their candidate could win the popular vote yet lose the presidency. Even the outside chance of an Electoral College tie that throws the contest to Congress. Now add to that parade of potential horrors one more: a freakish two-in-one storm that could, if the more dire forecasts prove correct, warp an election two years and $2 billion in the making.