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Is New Jersey’s post-storm election response a gateway to online voting?

Am I the only one who thinks New Jersey’s decision to permit voting via e-mail and fax in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy could be the start of something big?

Yes, I know it isn’t going perfectly smoothly and that the potential exists for major problems to arise related to voter and system security and integrity (This piece from BloombergBusinessweek outlines a few.) But I’ve got a bit of a history as a consultant in this arena, and I think the Garden State, even unwittingly, has opened the door to something very exciting – something we are not hearing much about but I am sure would be getting much more play if the domain in question were Ohio or Florida.

I love the fact that state officials thought to capitalize on the ubiquity of electronic communications technology to make sure storm victims are not disenfranchised for reasons over which they had no control, and I am impressed with how they were able to do it on such little notice. This truly was a great solution to an unprecedented problem, and a terrific demonstration of how the “ITization of the consumer” can pay dividends beyond the boundaries of the workplace.

At the same time, though, it concerns me that, to pick one example, the potential for the volume of returns to quickly overwhelm the election inboxes seemed not to be anticipated. The result was that many voters received “mailbox full” messages and many others received no reply at all, which had to be even more disquieting than a bounce notification since there was no way to know whether or not a request for a ballot had even been received. One well-intentioned (Essex) county clerk took to Facebook as a result and invited displaced voters to e-mail into a personal Hotmail account – a worthy effort to be sure, but hardly a secure solution.

It’s seven years since I was first retained to validate an electronic voting solution (a really good one, as it turned out), and I have been as disappointed in the pace of development in this field as I have been bullish on its prospects ever since. As a result, I look at what is transpiring in New Jersey as a glimpse of what is possible, even if there was a certain lack of foresight (perhaps understandable given the short timeframe) in terms of capacity and work-around. The state already accepts e-mail or online votes from members of the military and people living overseas – as do nearly half of all states plus the District of Columbia, Bloomberg says, and of course so many major corporations around the time of their annual meetings. So why couldn’t this be the harbinger of a new model to come?

Which way do you vote on this fascinating and sensitive issue? Let us know what you think by leaving a comment and/or sending me an email. Thanks!

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