Talking tech since 2003

Yesterday, the state of New Jersey announced a very interesting alteration to this year’s voting process: voters may now submit their application via email. That’s right, registered voters in New Jersey won’t have to wait in line at the polls this year, they can cast a ballot from the comfort of their own home, and do so electronically.

New Jersey Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno says that the move was enacted to alleviate pressure from polling places on November 6. As a result of the destruction of Hurricane Sandy, many polling places in the Garden State have been replaced by military trucks. Cleanup is still under way, and will be for a while.

The administration explains how voters can cast a ballot online:

“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.”

If this process throws up some red flags in your mind, you’re not wrong. The big gaping security hole can be summed up with one acronym: SMTP. SMTP, which is the standard protocol for email, is anything but secure. SMTP data transmits over the internet in the clear, which means it can be easily read and/or modified by a third party. For example, a rogue employee at an internet service provider or email provider could easily intercept email votes. This employee would not only be able to see how people are voting, but could also alter their ballots.

Another interesting caveat regards the legalities of voting rules. In the US, by federal law, the process for voting in any state cannot be changed within 30 days before the election. It is probably obvious that this new measure by New Jersey could be a large controversy.

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