N.J. Extends Email Voting to Friday, Other States Hurry to Fix Polling Problems

County clerks in New Jersey were inundated with requests for email voting.

November 06, 2012, 1:14 PM

Nov. 6, 2012 — -- Election officials in storm-ravaged New Jersey were so overwhelmed with requests from displaced residents to be able to vote by email that they extended the deadline for electronic voting to Friday.

Thousands of voters who were displaced from their homes and polling districts after superstorm Sandy will be able to email their ballots to their county clerks by 8 p.m. Friday to be counted in the 2012 election, according to a new directive issued by the New Jersey Division of Elections this afternoon.

The change came after clerks were inundated with requests by residents, each of which took staffers more than 15 minutes to complete after comparing the request against a list of registered voters and finishing paperwork, according to an Essex County, N.J., staffer.

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Sandy initially knocked out power to more than 800 polling sites throughout the state, although alternative locations were quickly established. Governor Chris Christie announced earlier this week that residents would be able to vote by email if they could not make it to a polling place, becoming the first state to allow electronic voting for the whole population. Some states have previously offered electronic voting to those serving in the military.

According to the New Jersey offices of the American Civil Liberties Union, county clerks were so swamped with requests for email ballots today that the ACLU petitioned for an extension to typical voting hours.

The changes to polling rules in New Jersey are just one example of the ongoing problems and controversies at polling sites around the country, as civil rights groups and campaign-affiliated attorneys all monitor voters' access to polls and other issues that could infleunce the outcome of the election.

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In Pennsylvania, voting integrity groups claimed today that voters are experiencing "mass confusion," over whether they are required to show photo identification in order to vote. Election Protection, a watchdog group, said they'd received more than 200 calls by 1:30 p.m. from voters complaining about I.D. problems at the polls, including a sign taped to one polling place that read "Show photo I.D," even though photo identification is not required to vote.

Lawyers for the Obama campaign and the Republican party had argued over the photo I.D. issue in Pennsylvania for months leading up to election day, as Democrats tried to strike down the photo I.D. requirement and Republicans sought to uphold it. The court struck it down, ruling that any resident could vote without a photo I.D.

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Pennsylvania was also the state that saw the first court battle over voting issues today, as Pennsylvania GOP officials protested to the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas that about 75 Republican inspectors in Philadelphia were not able to access polling places.

"This was a shameless attempt from the Obama campaign to suppress our legally appointed Republican poll watchers in Philadelphia and they got caught," Rob Gleason, chairman of the Pennsylvania Republican Party, said in a statement.

Democrats argued that the issue was about credentialing, and that they were trying to ensure that the inspectors had valid certificates in order to be seated at the polling places. The court quickly issued an order saying that certified inspectors should be allowed into their designated polling places.

Republicans also went to court in Pennsylvania to have a judge order a polling place in Philadelphia to cover a mural of Obama painted on the wall of a Philadelphia elementary school.

The court battles are emblematic of both campaigns' reliance on attorneys and poll watchers across the country to monitor voting, especially in swing states. Clawing their way to victory will mean the campaigns of Mitt Romney and President Obama must ensure that problems with access or machines don't impair their candidate's ability to win the election.

In large part, Democrats fear voter suppression tactics, while Republicans are wary of voter fraud.

Volunteer attorneys affiliated with both sides are on the ground at polling stations in swing states, wired into campaign headquarters with smart phones and apps, ready to present challenges to local judges.

Both sides will be concentrating on issues such as voter registration and eligibility, poll watcher activity, ballot counting, polling hours and machine malfunctions.

In many swing states, however, including Ohio, Colorado, Nevada, Iowa, and Wisconsin, election officials tell ABC News that voting is running smoothly and going as expected.

If states begin to see hiccups in their smooth operations, including malfunctions or legal challenges, judges in all fifty states are on stand-by today to issue quick rulings and help iron out contentious issues.

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