There’s no good time to have a hurricane, but the timing of Sandy, just before voters are scheduled to go to the polls for the U.S. Presidential election, seems to be especially bad.
The storm battered the East Coast last week, where New Jersey suffered extensive damage.
In order to enable residents to still cast their ballots who may be displaced by the storm, the state is allowing these decisions to be made by both e-mail and fax to avoid overcrowding polling places come Election Day. This wouldn’t be possible without a reliable email hosting platform in place.
“Despite the widespread damage Hurricane Sandy has caused, New Jersey is committed to working through the enormous obstacles before us to hold an open and transparent election befitting our state and the resiliency of its citizens,” New Jersey Lieutenant Governenor Kim Guadango said in a statement.
Voting by e-mail and fax is not a new program, but an extension of an existing one for military personnel stationed overseas to submit absentee ballots.
“We’ve been doing this since 2008, it’s just that in this emergency and the aftermath of the devastation of this hurricane, we’re trying to make voting as accessible as possible for people who can’t get to the polls,” added Ernie Landante, a spokesman for Guandango’s office.
With the electronic absentee voting comes questions about security. It’s difficult to verify that an e-mail purportedly sent by a voter actually did come from that person. E-mail “spoofing,” or sending an e-mail from someone else’s address, is trivially easy to do. All a user has to do is change the address in the “from” section when composing a message. This reflects the Internet’s origins as a network for academics that trusted each other and could hardly imagine malicious uses on it.
Furthermore, sometimes email hosting solutions can go down under pressure from disasters, whether they’re caused by humans or the weather. However, hosting services like SherWeb can mitigate this somewhat. Gmail and other e-mail services can also detect possible e-mail spoofing.
There are a couple of ways to protect the integrity of the vote even under less-than-ideal circumstances. First, election officials check the voter’s registration and signature information when a ballot is requested. The ballots are also only counted after Election Day, with officials checking to see that there are no duplicates.
As imperfect as the solution can without a trusted partner, the alternative is not allowing many of New Jersey’s citizens to vote as the state struggles to restore power to communities ravaged by the storm
“This is not going to be secure,” Universrity of California Irvine Professor Rick Hasen told Politoco. “It points out how we need disaster plans to deal with eventualities...We need something better.”
Edited by Jamie Epstein