For the rest of the world, enjoying all that fancy 19th-century electricity in their homes — while we storm-weary New Yawkers and New Joisey-ites sit in the dark and cold (this writer just got power back today) — swing states may not be the only ones for voter fraud junkies to watch. Although NJ has historically served as “the political ATM state” — where candidates drop in early and often to garner donations from interest groups and wealthy citizens who pay to eat rubber chicken and buy access (the candidate may remember you, based on the size of your donation) — Joisey might steal the spotlight from Florida and Ohio this election day. Ohio and Florida may be the sought-after crown jewels of the Obama and Romney campaigns but the potential for voting irregularities and electoral fraud has just shot up WAY up here in the Garden state.
Over the weekend, NJ Governor Christie made the bold announcement that he he would allow New Jersey citizens to vote by email and fax (remember those loud, bulky things?) due to widespread storm damage to hundreds of polling locations across the state. Wouldn’t it be nice for voters to choose who will obstruct congress for next few years, using the very same tool that has proven so handy for forwarding funny animal memes and receiving spammed hack jokes from your uncle? Unfortunately, this 21st century convenience may not prove so great for the health and integrity of our increasingly-compromised and bought Democracy, as computer scientists smell an opportunity for electoral fraud.
“You must have a paper ballot backup,” said Penny Venetis, a professor at Rutgers University School of Law in Newark.”What’s puzzling is that the lieutenant governor’s directives allow Internet voting without requiring this protection that is necessary to ensure the integrity of the vote.” (NJ.com)
Voters who opt to use the über-cool and convenient electronic option evidently must go through the arduous task of printing, signing and scanning a physical ballot. Upon doing so, they must then send it to their county clerk via email. A lot of New Jersey — including many municipalities in Ocean County — are still without power. Unless they generators powering their homes — and networks — they won’t even have the opportunity to get online. And there’s not just the connectivity issues, but external hardware (printers, faxes) difficulties presenting themselves. Most important, Andrew Appel, a computer science professor at Princeton University, points out that hackers can forge those ballots and signatures, submit fraudulent votes, and then wipe their tracks online:
“Voters’ emails can be modified or interfered with — without their knowledge — coming into the county election computers,” Appel said. “Email voting is completely untrustworthy and insecure unless it’s backed up by paper ballots that a voter signs and sends in.” (NJ.com)
And Doug Kellner, co-chairman of the New York State Board of Elections, seemed to feel that the risks of email ballots were too great.
“Especially in this type of emergency, when there’s a lack of electrical service, there’s a question of fairness for those who are on the other side of the digital divide,” Kellner said. “There are those who do not have electricity or the resources to power a printer.” (NJ.com)
But a spokesman for NJ Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno cited no irregularities with email ballots since 2008, which were used for members of the military and citizens living abroad. But given the unique nature of the newly implemented email system, county officials will have to check ballots twice — before and after the election — to ensure there’s no foul play.
With state-wide Republican efforts to suppress the vote in the form of voter id laws, false robo-calls, and voter intimidation, voting in the United States has grown increasingly akin to voting in Iran or Russia, as partisans want power and will do anything to get it. So perhaps voting by email involves the same amount of risk as going to your polling place in Ohio or Florida. For uncertain voters in New Jersey who might be able to still get to their respective polling precincts, simply text “where” to 877877 with your address and you’ll immediately receive a response that contains your polling location.
Michael is a comedian/VO artist/Columnist extraordinaire, who co-wrote an award-nominated comedy, produces a chapter of Laughing Liberally, wrote for NY Times Laugh Lines, guest-blogged for Joe Biden, and writes a column for MSNBC.com affiliated Cagle Media. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and like NJ Laughing Liberally Lab if you love political humor from a progressive point-of-view. Seriously, follow him or he’ll send you a photo of Rush Limbaugh bending over in a thong.