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N.J. voting extension exposes email can of worms

Over the weekend, the Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey Kim Guadagno announced that anyone displace by the hurricane would be considered an overseas voter for purposes of these elections. As such they are allowed to request and submit ballots via fax or email. On election day, the state extended the deadline for those ballot submissions via email and fax until 8 PM Eastern on Friday, Ars Technica reports

This totally unprecedented move, while completely laudable, may be the cause of more problems than the long lines at polling places. Until the extension was announced, each affected county essentially had approximately 48 hours to beef up their current overseas voting system to handle what may be 100 times or more than the usual load. And then the loser of each race has days to pick it apart.

Network administrators know that “scaling up” an existing process or system that is currently designed to handle relatively small numbers is never simple. Often it requires a complete overhaul, because what may work fine for small numbers of users or documents may be completely wrong for huge numbers.

And this doesn’t even begin to address the inherent security problems that email has always had. There is a reason that people are told not to send confidential information in an email – unencrypted email is too vulnerable to interception and tampering. There is also a reason why email encryption hasn’t caught on in business – it takes additional steps that the average user would have to learn. For someone who gets hundreds of emails a day, using encryption would add significant time to the task of sending and receiving emails, so no one uses it for every single email. So, when it comes time to send or receive an email that really needs encryption, the user doesn’t usually have the means.

While this may be a way for New Jersey residents to vote when they otherwise may be unable due to their situation, this may also open up a can of worms that the state legislature did not foresee.

Posted by Greg Crowe on Nov 07, 2012 at 9:39 AM


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