POLITICS
12/07/2012 02:26 pm ET Updated Dec 07, 2012

New Jersey Voting After Hurricane Sandy Not Handled Well, State Senate Leader Steve Sweeney Says

WASHINGTON -- New Jersey's Democratic state Senate president said he believes that the state's decision to allow Hurricane Sandy victims to vote by email and fax was not properly handled and caused chaos for local election officials.

Sen. Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) told The Huffington Post that Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R) did not adequately handle the election response to the storm, which devastated the Jersey Shore and left much of the state without power for more than a week.

Guadagno decided to allow voters displaced by the storm to use emailed and faxed ballots, which were previously open to state residents serving in the military overseas. Guadagno's decision occurred days before the election, less than a week after the hurricane hit New Jersey.

Sweeney, in town for this week's National Conference of State Legislatures fall forum, said he heard from county clerks around New Jersey that they were hit with thousands of requests for ballots by email and fax, causing hardships in their administration of the election.

Sweeney said that he believed Guadagno, who serves as New Jersey's secretary of state, should have discussed the issue with county clerks and other local election officials before making the order. This would have allowed her to understand the impact of the decision, he said.

Guadagno should have promoted in-person absentee voting, said Sweeney. Guadagno did order the opening of county clerk offices statewide the weekend before the election for this option.

State Sen. Nia Gill (D-Montclair) has introduced legislation in New Jersey to expand early voting options and locations in the state.

"It is not easy to criticize and I'm not one that does that," Sweeney told HuffPost. "In this case, to say 'email for a ballot,' the clerks were not prepared. There was no communication with local elections officials. It was a complete mess."

Sweeney's remarks come as he weighs entering the Democratic gubernatorial primary to challenge Gov. Chris Christie (R) in the 2013 election. Sweeney told HuffPost that he's also considering a race for the U.S. Senate in 2014 or staying in the state Senate. Christie has confirmed that Guadagno, a former Monmouth County sheriff, will be his running mate for a second term.

Guadagno's spokesman Ernest Landante Jr. told HuffPost that the lieutenant governor takes issue with Sweeney's characterization of the email voting process as a "complete mess" and that the decision was necessary due to the severity of the storm.

"Considering that New Jersey suffered what was the worst natural disaster in its history just days before a national election, the election overall went smoothly," Landante said in an email to HuffPost. "The move to electronic ballots was to ensure that New Jerseyans displaced by the storm and first responders were not disenfranchised and had access to a ballot. Thousands of New Jerseyans were – and continue to be – displaced from their homes, while many others lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy. They shouldn't have had to lose their right to vote too."

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