New Jersey officials have announced that state residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy will be able to vote by fax or email. They’ll use the same system normally available only to overseas and military voters.
The move is designed to deal with the sheer number of voters who are unexpectedly living somewhere away from their registered voting district. It’s targeting both displaced residents and the “first responders” who’ve relocated to help others. The change only applies to people ordinarily eligible to vote in New Jersey.
To take advantage, voters need to visit the website for the county where they are registered to vote. From here they need to use the standard form for applying for a mail-in ballot, but will be able to submit it by fax or e-mail. If approved, they’ll get back a ballot by the same method. The voter can then return the ballot by fax or email before 8pm local time.
Normally such voting is only available to New Jersey military members (and their immediate families) who are away from their home on military service, along with those who are living overseas but most recently lived in New Jersey.
As well as opening up electronic voting, the state has relaxed its usual rules that says anyone voting by fax or e-mail must also mail in a signed affidavit confirming their eligibility. However, the state is keeping its rule — unique among those that allow electronic voting in any form — that voters must send a copy of their ballot in by regular mail.
That requirement could become significant if the result is close and disputes over electronic votes could change the outcome. Opinion polling suggests that’s unlike to be the case in New Jersey.
Though there’s been no official announcement of this, it seems likely the extension of electronic ballots to ordinary voters will be a one-off. Not only do officials fear electronic voting is inherently more open to fraud because of the lack of a paper trail, but there’s a theory that having different types of voting machine across the state (as opposed to everyone voting electronically with the same system) minimizes the damage that can be caused from a single beach of technology.
For those who don’t have access to a fax machine or e-mail (or don’t trust online voting), the state has also changed its rules on voting location. Displaced residents can cast a provisional ballot at any polling station in the state.