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N.J. county overwhelmed by emailed and faxed ballots

November 06, 2012|By Andrew Tangel

NEWARK, N.J. — Officials in New Jersey's third-largest county say they will not be able to process the majority of more than 3,000 faxed or emailed ballot applications by the end of election day.

That means some Garden State voters displaced by super storm Sandy — hundreds in Essex County alone — may not be able to vote by the time polls close Tuesday evening, unless the state extends deadlines.

Eight election officials have been processing the faxed and emailed applications, said Christopher Durkin, the Essex County clerk. Each takes about 15 minutes to verify voter rolls and signatures.

An email address set up by the clerk's office to receive applications got so overloaded it shut down, prompting Durkin's office to ask voters to send applications to his personal Hotmail e-mail account. Faxed applications continue to roll in too.

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Durkin said he could not estimate more precisely how many emailed or faxed applications his office had received by midday Tuesday. Nor could he estimate how many would be processed by the day's end, but he said it was “extremely” unlikely the majority would be processed.

“This comes down to whether or not this deadline will be extended, for voting by email and fax,” Durkin said.

Durkin blamed voters unaffected by Sandy for taking advantage of eased voting procedures.

“This was set in place for people who are truly displaced due to the hurricane disaster — not for easy voting,” Durkin said. “This is based on the honor system. It doesn't seem as though the honor system is working, and it's a shame for the people who are truly displaced.”

The Essex County clerk's office in downtown Newark processed about 2,300 mail-in ballot applications Saturday through Monday by voters who came in person. Voters faced long waits, some for hours.

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Essex County includes Newark but also well-to-do suburban towns such as West Orange and Maplewood, home to many who commute to New York City.

Sandy created a mess for election officials in New Jersey and New York. After the storm slammed into the East Coast last week, tens of thousands of residents of New Jersey and the New York City area found themselves unable to reach their regular polling places. People lost homes and found temporary shelter elsewhere. Polling places were relocated due to flood damage. Many remained without electricity or were stranded by aborted travel plans.

New Jersey put in place an emergency plan to make voting easier for displaced residents. The state opened county clerks offices last weekend to residents who wanted to cast mail-in ballots, beyond the original deadline. The state is also letting voters cast provisional ballots at any polling site in the state on Tuesday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey says it will seek a court order Monday to address the problems with ballot requests, the Star Ledger reported. The ACLU will ask that people be allowed to use the Federal Voting Assistance Program, which typically offers absentee ballots for members of the armed forces or residents living overseas, the newspaper said.

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andrew.tangel@latimes.com

Twitter: @AndrewTangel

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