Published November 06. 2012 4:00PM Updated November 06. 2012 6:54PM
TRENTON, N.J. — New Jersey has extended the deadline for email voting for displaced residents until Friday as complications of a last-minute provision to help voters displaced by last week's storm cast ballots.
The decision was announced Tuesday as some county election offices were swamped with requests for email ballots.
The email option is available only to voters displaced by the storm and who are willing to give up their right to a private ballot. Voters still must request ballots by 5 p.m. Tuesday to take advantage of the voting option.
The changed deadline was put in place to help county election officials in storm-ravaged areas deal with a flood of requests from voters. The county election offices will have until noon Friday to process the applications, and the voters will have to fax or email their ballots by 8 p.m. Friday.
In Hudson County alone, there were 4,000 requests for the unusual sort of ballot by 3 p.m. Tuesday, said Deputy County Clerk Janet Larwa.
"It's a different kind of nuts," she said.
Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno, who is also New Jersey's secretary of state, gave displaced voters additional options if they could not get to their regular polling places: They could vote by email or fax, receive a provisional ballot at any New Jersey polling place, or vote in person at county clerk's offices, which remained open through the weekend.
Those who chose to go to polling places in other parts of the state were to be given slimmed-down ballots with only the presidential and U.S. Senate races and two statewide referendum questions. They would not be able to vote in U.S. House, county, local and school board elections.
The email and fax option has received the deepest scrutiny.
Voting security experts say it's a system vulnerable to fraud. In New Jersey, it's usually allowed only for residents living overseas and members of the military. And they must also mail in paper back-up copies that election officials can use for verification.
On Monday, even as voting rights advocates asked the state to clarify that the paper backups must be sent, a spokesman for Guadagno was saying that because of the extreme emergency, they need not be in this case. But the spokesman, Ernest Landante, said Monday evening that voters must indeed mail in paper ballots as well.
Penny Venetis, who runs a constitutional law clinic at Rutgers University's Newark law school, said the late details on how to vote by email would lead only to more confusion. She said she applauded the state's effort to make sure voters could participate, but said she believed Guadagno did not have the legal authority to go as far as she did.
She said Tuesday that email voting problems were no surprise. "This is completely crazy," she said. "And it's utterly predictable."
In Hudson County, Deputy County Clerk Janet Larwa said there were 2,000 requests for email ballots by midday. Election officials were tasked with verifying that the voters requesting them were eligible and were truly displaced by the storm. She said the process was slowed by requests from people who were not displaced.
Meanwhile, the ACLU asked a judge to make sure that people in Essex County who were eligible for email ballots would get them.
Essex County election officials could not be reached for comment immediately.