A week after Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, the state is still struggling to recover. Hundreds of thousands are still without power, thousands are displaced from their homes and basic food, water and gasoline are scarce. Despite Obama’s promise to leverage the full resources of the federal government and cut through “red tape,” the state largely will still be a disaster area on Tuesday, when voters nationwide go to the polls. So, the Christie Administration has announced that people will be able to cast their ballots by e-mail or fax on Tuesday. What could possibly go wrong?
I realize that even commenting on this is rife with danger. Obviously, the people of New Jersey are facing a terrible tragedy. Actually, they are facing two tragedies. The first was Sandy, the second is government’s inability to marshal its resources to repair the damage and provide aid to its citizens. New Jersey has a massive government at the state and local levels, yet it fails at its most basic function, protecting its citizens.
Whatever the failings of their government and officials, citizens shouldn’t have to forfeit their voting franchise. But, does offering voting by e-mail or fax really sufficiently help people who have lost their homes or are without power? How exactly would that work, if you don’t have power?
To vote electronically, displaced voters may submit a mail-in ballot application either by e-mail or fax to their county clerk. Once an application is approved, the clerk will electronically send a ballot to the voter by either fax or e-mail in accordance to the voter’s preference. Voters must return their electronic ballot – by fax or email – no later than November 6, 2012, at 8 p.m.
How, exactly does a county clerk verify that an e-mail or fax actually comes from the person requesting the ballot? Any faxed request for a ballot would likely come from a place like Kinko’s. What would prevent someone from going through voting rolls of a devastated town and fax-in requests for 20 or 30 ballots? And e-mails don’t exactly come with unique identifiers, so couldn’t someone set up an easy program to auto-request hundreds of ballots.
So much could obviously go wrong with this plan that it doesn’t need to be detailed here. Those most likely to benefit from this are without the tools to effectively utilize it, as they have neither power nor home. In a way, Christie’s “plan” here is so typical of how government works. It is best at appearing to do something. Officials are very good at talking about fixing things, but actually pretty inept at actually doing it.
So fine, Christie is going to let people vote by fax or e-mail. Hell, maybe they can just post their vote preferences on Facebook or something. You know, when they get somewhere with power and a computer. Look, Christie has done something! I imagine the voters would rather have power than a press release.