(NEW YORK) — Displaced victims of the storm-ravaged New Jersey coastline faced a new challenge on Tuesday, as their attempts to vote in person, by email and by fax failed.
New Jersey — at the last minute and prompted by the displacement of residents from superstorm Sandy — was the first state to ever allow electronic voting for a significant portion of its population. Other states have allowed some electronic voting for military members or overseas residents in the past.
The effort in New Jersey on Tuesday, however, showed the difficulties of maintaining an orderly and efficient election when phone lines and inboxes are overwhelmed with voter requests.
“This is an unprecedented disaster,” Essex County clerk Chris Durkin told the Montclair Times. “People will be disenfranchised because of this unprecedented disaster.”
Election officials around the state were bombarded by requests from voters to vote electronically. Each request took staffers up to 15 minutes to process as they received the email or fax request, checked the voter registration lists for matching identities, and completed paperwork before emailing a ballot to the voter.
In Hudson County, in northern New Jersey, the county clerk had received more than 2,000 requests for email ballots by Tuesday morning, at which point they stopped processing requests altogether.
Essex County voters were met with busy signals on phone and fax lines, as well as email rejections from full inboxes, as they tried to submit requests to receive electronic ballots, according to the clerk’s office.
“The state didn’t give us enough time to prepare,” Morris County Clerk Joan Bramhall told NJ.com.
Carl Block, the county administrator for Ocean County, one of the hardest-hit regions of the state, said he expected the electronic voting difficulties to affect fewer than 50,000 voters in the state, and that the number would not prevent the state being called in the national election Tuesday night.
Gov. Chris Christie enacted email voting on Saturday in the aftermath of Sandy, which destroyed thousands of homes along the Jersey Shore and displaced thousands of New Jersey residents, along with disrupting power to about 800 polling sites.
“Hundreds of voters are out of state, displaced, and may not be able to use email or fax, partly because the counties are overwhelmed with the response to this option. Part of it is that people are trying to fax their applications in and can’t get through,” said Jeanne Locicero, spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Jersey.
The ACLU went to court twice Tuesday on behalf of New Jersey voters, the first time to ask for an extension to the deadline to submit emailed ballots, and the second time to request that voters be allowed to use a federal absentee ballot available as a PDF online.
The state’s Division of Election issued a ruling at 2 p.m. extending the deadline for voters to submit email ballots until 8 p.m. on Friday.
A judge in Essex County denied the ACLU’s request to let voters use the federal absentee ballot.
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