Email Ballots In New Jersey: Election Watchdog Groups Concerned About Security

Chris Greenhough - Author

May 7 2014, Updated 4:36 p.m. ET

Trenton, NJ – Email ballots have been permitted for New Jersey residents displaced by Hurricane Sandy, but election watchdog groups have expressed concern about the security of electronic balloting.

New Jersey is permitting voters to request a ballot by email or fax to their county clerk so long as they return their ballot by the same method by 8 pm Tuesday. Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno argued the rule was introduced to “help alleviate pressure on polling places”.

Rutgers-Newark Law School Professor Penny Venetis is just one opponent of email ballots. She points out that New Jersey residents who live overseas and vote by email must also submit a paper ballot, allowing vote-counters to verify the results.

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Venetis is urging officials from New Jersey to introduce the exact same rule for those voters displaced by last week’s storm. Should officials fail to implement the rule changes, Venetis has warned election advocates may file a lawsuit later Monday in a bid to force New Jersey to deploy the overseas-voter rules for displaced voters.

Other experts argue that email ballots have yet to be tested on a large scale and face a whole host of legal and technical hurdles.

Matt Blaze, a University of Pennsylvania computer scientist specialising in security, warned that email ballots could compromise the entire election:

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“The security implications of voting by email are, under normal conditions, more than sufficient to make any computer security specialist recoil in horror. Email, of course, is not at all authenticated, reliable, or confidential, and that by itself opens the door to new forms of election mischief that would be far more difficult in a traditional in-person polling station or with paper absentee ballot.”

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Andrew Appel, a Princeton University computer scientist, echoes Blaze’s fears, describing internet voting as “inherently insecure” and warning that “email is the most insecure form of internet voting”. He also argued that email ballots mean voters have to waive their right to a secret ballot.

Pam Smith of the Verified Voting Foundation, a group which opposes electronic voting without paper backup, told New Jersey residents:

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“You can vote at any polling place in New Jersey and you won’t lose privacy.”

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New Jersey election officials are yet to respond to the protests against email ballots.

How do you feel about e-voting? Should more rigorous security be put in place for displaced New Jersey residents?


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