August 14, 2020

Emergency Motion to Stop Internet Voting in NJ

with Penny Venetis

On May 4th, 2020 a press release from mobilevoting.org announced that New Jersey would allow online voting in a dozen school-board elections scheduled for May 12th. On May 11, the Rutgers International Human Rights Clinic filed an emergency motion to stop internet voting in New Jersey. During a conference on May 18 with Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson, the State notified the court that it had abandoned its plans to use internet voting for the upcoming July 7 primary election. 

The Clinic, led by Rutgers Law School professor Penny Venetis, argued that the Democracy Live online voting system (that New Jersey planned to use) violated a broad court order issued in March 2010 by Judge Linda Feinberg.  That order was issued in the Clinic’s case Gusciora v. Corzine, which challenged paperless voting machines as unconstitutional.  

The March 2010 court order stated clearly and unequivocally that no part of any New Jersey voting system could be connected to the internet, under any circumstance.  New Jersey has a continuing obligation to ensure that the order is followed, and that all voting-related software is “hardened” on a regular basis.

Democracy Live’s voting portal permits voters to transmit their cast ballot, via the internet, to county election officials, for tabulation.  Despite the state’s assertions to the contrary, it is an internet-based system that violates the 2010 order in Gusciora.  Princeton Professor Andrew Appel filed a certification (for the emergency motion) discussing the overwhelming scientific consensus that internet based voting is insecure.  The IHR Clinic also provided the court with scientific reports, a US Department of Homeland Security report, and a letter from the US House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee.  Those documents all discussed the insecurity of the Democracy Live system (or any system with online ballot return).  Susan Greenhalgh of Free Speech for People, participated in negotiations with the State.  The Washington Post covered the lawsuit favorably on May 14th.  Common Cause, the Brennan Center, and Verified Voting wrote New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on May 15th, in support of the IHR Clinic’s position.  

In the hearing on May 18th with Judge Jacobson, the State agreed not to use online voting in the July 7th primary elections, but did not commit to abandoning Democracy Live’s online portal for the November 2020 Presidential election.

Judge Jacobson ordered the IHR Clinic and the NJ Attorney General’s office to file a joint document by June 8, 2020 that lays out the resolution of the May 11th court filing.    As a result, the court will keep the IHR Clinic’s matter open, in the event it needs to issue a ruling to enforce the 2010 order that bans internet use for voting in New Jersey.