After telling the people of New Jersey they would be able to vote in today’s election, in spite of severe impacts from hurricane Sandy, Gov. Chris Christie’s administration appears not to have taken adequate measures to support the new voting options promised. There are reports of downed servers blocking email applications for mail-in ballots, while county clerks responsible for responding appear not to be making needed information available to voters.
Ever suspicious of am arch-rival’s intentions, some progressives appear yo believe Gov. Christie intended the email ballot request process to be a trap, designed to disenfranchise voters, since New Jersey law in non-emergency situations forbids voting at polling stations once the request for a mail-on ballot has been sent.
My own personal experience supports anecdotal reports of blocked or overloaded processing at the county level. A request, with completed application, sent to the Monmouth County Clerk’s office has received no response at all… not even an automated email response to let me know the application had been received. Only one phone number associated with the County yielded a human voice. The kind woman knew nothing about what would happen, but had been told to give out two numbers which are not even in service—or, which are in service, but so overloaded, no one can get through and they automatically disconnect.
No one answers or returns calls from the County Clerk’s Office, the Superintendent of Elections, or the state’s Attorney General’s Office. At 3:00 pm, no one in the state seems to have an answer as to whether a New Jersey resident unable to vote in person due to Sandy’s impact on New York and New Jersey will be allowed to vote.
Update, 4:24 pm: The office of the Monmouth County Clerk now says the state of New Jersey shut down email servers and cancelled email requests for mail-in ballots. The same source also said the state has provided zero additional personnel, funding or technology to manage the special provisions. No voters that sent mail were notified that their requests would not be processed. The County is now advising that displaced voters fax their applications, even if they already sent a request by email.
Update, 4:49 pm: Rumors about extended mail-in ballot submission range from tonight at 9 pm to Friday evening. County staff say the Christie administration has provided no clear instructions and no assistance to guarantee displaced voters their right to vote.
Update, 5:55 pm: As of this late hour, the County Clerk’s Office is instructing voters who sent their mail-in ballot request via email to check their “Sent Mail” folder, locate the email, and then print out that copy of the email, which will contain a “Sent” line with a time-stamp. I have been told that time-stamp will be honored as evidence of the request having been made on time. Voters who have not received their mail-in ballot by email or fax, by Thursday, are being instructed to fax a print-out of that sent email, and urge follow-through so they can cast their mail-in ballot by the extended deadline on Friday.
Update, 6:08 pm: Anecdotal evidence from Monmouth County, NJ, suggests the committed public servants at the County Clerk’s Office are laboring impossible hours to make sure the election is carried out ably, fairly and with complete impartiality, while the state government appears to be providing no extra resources on any level to assist in the county’s work to carry out this operation just one week after the biggest local natural disaster on record.
Update, 7:39 pm: After more than 12 hours of trying, I was able to verify that my mail-in ballot request had been received. I advise all voters in New Jersey to make their concerns heard by public officials at the municipal, county, state and federal levels, regarding the integrity of our elections. A lot of very good people are working very hard to guard against the complacency and disinterest that can flood a system like this. Their contribution is heroic and worthy of praise, but we need the state to do a lot more to make it possible for them to achieve their goals, without subjecting our public servants to impossible burdens and unachievable technological goals.
Update, 8:01 pm: Please note: Though they are widely used nowadays to provide a technologically certified guarantee of the validity of a document, digital signatures do not qualify on most paperwork handled by the state of New Jersey. Though this was not announced when the special email voting provisions were announced, they do not qualify as a legal signature for your electronic mail-in ballot application. If you submitted a request by email, and used a certified digital signature, it will not count; you may still be able to secure a ballot by sending in your fax, though the deadline has passed, if your initial request was made before the deadline.