NEW JERSEY–If America were a person, she would have two very important days in her life. Her birthday, July 4th and Election Day. Over the past 236 years, we’ve had 44 presidents, and it would seem that as technology becomes more sophisticated, our way of voting would too, and it has—to a degree and now with some hesitance.
From the originally classic hand-written ballots and penciling in of candidates, to the lever-pulling machines and the punch card mechanisms of the 1900s, voting has evolved into a system where individuals can cast votes electronically by a selection made on the screen, thus making it easier and quicker to count votes.
While vote tallying has become more efficient, could it also become more convenient for the citizen who is casting the vote? Just three days ago, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie gave it a shot, allowing residents displaced by the superstorm to vote via fax and e-mail, only to realize the system was not as efficient as he or anyone had hoped. The move left voters to voice their frustrations through, where else, social media.
When asked about the voting technique, Dawn Gardener, a long time resident of Brick, which had a second mandatory evacuation Tuesday evening for the impending nor’easter, replied “I want to vote, I want my voice heard, and even with the electoral vote, will my vote even count? I don’t trust it.”
Of course cyber voting was not the only type of measure used to aid in the voting process. In response to the ongoing stretch of power outages across the state, election officials also ensured many centers had generators and even sent a tour of 12 buses that traveled to local shelters, which enabled displaced voters to cast their ballots.
The trouble is that everyone who did not previously vote absentee must vote in his or her own district. This would be a very difficult task for those living along the Jersey Shore who have been displaced from their storm ravished neighborhoods.
Even if new district voting centers were established as was the case in other parts of New Jersey due to power outages, traveling took extra time, money, and gas shortages made traveling generally difficult.
Because of the inefficiency, the Governor has received much criticism from voters. Because of this, the Christie administration decided to extend the acceptance of cyber voting ballots until Friday at 8pm, as long as those ballots were requested by 5pm on Tuesday’s election day.
In 2008 roughly 3.3 million Jerseyans voted in the general election, while this year just 3.1 people cast a ballot. Despite Obama’s obvious win, individuals are still sending in their ballots electronically. “Votes are hastily being counted and it is a very, very busy day,” said an Atlantic County Clerk dispatcher on Friday November 9th, the afternoon the remaining electronic ballots were due.
Although ballots were still being sent in, some “question the logic behind it. Back in the 2000 election, a couple thousand of votes could have changed things,” said Faye Miller a graduate Political Science student at New York University, and New Jersey resident. From the politically correct standpoint, “I think it was more [for Governor Christie] to avoid complaints by giving everyone a chance to vote, so no one could say New Jersey would have been a red state had the hurricane not happen.”
Christie’s actions are unprecedented as cyber voting was only previously allowed for military service members stationed overseas, but allotting such voting on home soil could be the next stepping stone in the evolution of voting by leading to further research and experimentation that could be used in the future.
Although there were noticeable faults that occurred during New Jersey’s trial, if cyber voting became a viable option, issues of security could prove disastrous in a close and contentious race, consequently effecting the outcome of an election.
“The core scientific challenge has to do with providing voters with both audibility and privacy of a secret ballot,” said David Wagner, a professor in the Computer Science Division at University of California, Berkely during Princeton University’s virtual symposium on the first of November, which focused on electronic voting systems.
“If you don’t have the ability to audit an election the scary prospect is the possibility for some unknown individual to hack our elections, and us not even know it. It would be horribly dangerous to deploy on a large scale,” as there would be no defense when a programmed virus could intercept a vote on screen or through the keyboard.
Of course, like all things, correcting the mistakes and pinpointing future tension would need to be addressed before attempting to enact such type of voting in the long run. But there is some optimism that arises on a small scale especially if you as an individual had no other possible way to vote.