Flavio Komuves
Flavio Komuves, a labor and commercial litigatorat Zazalli, Fagella, Nowak, Kleinbaum & Friedman in Newark, has been interested in election law as long as he’s been practicing law. While a deputy public advocate for New Jersey , he led a voting rights project, and is currently chair of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Election Law Committee. When Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey on Oct. 29, creating havoc just eight days before the presidential election, state officials scrambled to ease restrictions for voters forced from their homes and find new sites for darkened polling places.
Komuves, 42, a 1997 graduate of Seton Hall Law School, gives the ir efforts generally high marks: “The state offered a very creative set of options, and they did this in about as little time as you could. You really had an unprecedented disaster.”
Q. How did the storm impact voting?
A. The preliminary figures I’ve seen show that turnout was down quite substantially since the last turnout. All the ballots aren’t counted as of yet. But it looks like around 3.45 million of the voting-eligible population of 5.78 million. In 2008 that figure was 3.91 million.
Q. Wasn’t turnout down nationally?
A. Yes, and to some extent this is part of that trend. But it was exacerbated in New Jersey, I think, by the fact we had Sandy. People were displaced because they didn’t have electricity. You had some polling places moving. And I suspect that some potential voters, who were really impacted, had a lot of other things on their mind at the time.
Q. The state allowed displaced voters and first responders to vote by provisional ballot, a process that requires election officials to verify their eligibility at a later time. Was that a good move?
A. Yes. It meant they could vote any polling place in the state. Let’s say you were a first-aid worker who lived in Mays Landing but was assigned to work in Monmouth Beach. That meant you could go to any polling place in Monmouth Beach and vote. The only downside is that you didn’t get to vote on local races in your hometown.
Q. Displaced voters were also allowed to vote by fax or email. Thousands did, swamping county clerks. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno responded by giving them three additional days to accept ballots. Was the e-voting a good idea?
A. I think it was a good decision, although we’re still waiting to see how it actually worked out. One thing about electronic voting is that the voter has to sign a secrecy waiver. I’m not saying these ballots are open for public inspection, but they go to at least one election worker. In a typical election, you’re in a voting machine or mailing in a ballot. That vote cannot be traced back to you, after the fact, by anyone.
Q. Since Sandy hit, there’s been talk in Trenton about creating early-voting options in New Jersey.
A. A lot of states do this. We could draw on their experience. Oregon voters vote exclusively by mail.
Q. Don’t many people consider going to the local polling place, and casting their ballot behind a closed curtain, an important feature of civic life? Many voters take their kids to the polls on Election Day to show them how democracy works.
A. Going to a polling place is certainly an important ritual for some people. I love taking my little one to the polls. She’s five. We’ve taken her for the last two years. But one thing you have to remember is that in New Jersey the polls are open for 14 hours. It’s not as i f an entire neighborhood is getting together at a single place and engaging in this collective act.