Georgia election officials, voting systems CEO vouch for machine’s security ahead of midterms

By: - September 29, 2022 1:00 am

A video surveillance image taken on Jan. 19, 2021, shows former Coffee County Republican Party chair Cathy Latham, bottom right, welcoming forensic computer analysts with Atlanta-based SullivanStrickler to the county elections office. Screenshot from Coffee County video

The president of the Dominion Voting Systems defended the integrity of the company’s voting equipment during Wednesday’s Georgia State Election Board meeting where state officials attempted to shore up public confidence ahead of the Nov. 8 general election.

The State Election Board meeting provided the board members a chance to discuss the ongoing criminal investigation surveillance video footage and other reports showing a group of people, with the help of several Coffee County election officials at the time, gaining unauthorized access to copy every component of the voting system following President Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election.

The board dismissed requests from more than a dozen cybersecurity experts and other election security advocates asking for the state to replace its electronic ballot marking devices with hand-marked paper ballots in time for the midterm election. Early voting is set to begin October 17. According to the board, it is not even authorized to adopt an emergency rule under state law, unlike in 2020 when it adopted emergency rules such as allowing absentee drop boxes after the pandemic forced a statewide public health declaration.

Board members, however, acknowledged the seriousness of the breach allegations that were further fueled by surveillance video recently released by Coffee County attorneys through open records requests made by plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the strength of the state’s electronic voting system.

State Election Board Chairman William Duffey Jr. said the board contacted the FBI since the circumstances surrounding the south Georgia breach are similar to incidents that occurred in Michigan and Nevada. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced last week that his office has replaced the county’s voting equipment.

Several state election officials expressed that Georgians could feel more confident about the voting system if they had more insight into how Dominion machines work, how post-election audits of paper ballots can validate the initial results, and with better transparency throughout the election season.

The CEO and president of Dominion, John Poulos, said Wednesday his company’s system protects against threats. He said that each voting system is a standalone, meaning that the devices are not connected to the internet while voting takes place, and the vote is not tabulated until after the voter scans a paper ballot. 

Dominion’s electronic ballot marking devices were rolled out statewide in Georgia for use in the 2020 elections and beyond. State lawmakers approved spending $107 million to replace the old Diebold machines, which did not provide voters a paper ballot to confirm their choices. 

Dominion’s touchscreen devices are used to cast votes that are then printed out on paper ballots that lists each selection. The ballots are placed into a scanner that reads a bar code and saves digital images of the ballot before it goes into a secure box. 

Poulos referenced security features such as encrypted memory cards and referenced how the paper ballots allow for an auditing process in Georgia in which the votes recorded on paper can be compared to the results tabulated by the machines.

“In addition to the paper ballot that can be hand recounted, you also have a record by way of a digital image of what that voter verified and confirmed at the time it was cast,” Poulos said. 

A U.S. cybersecurity agency’s report released earlier this year confirmed vulnerabilities in the Dominion touch screens. And an expert witness in the lawsuit published a report about the dangers of relying on digital technology that is more susceptible to hacking.

Some critics of the state’s Dominion machines, however, point out that the ballot marking devices need to load data to display current elections and in order for tabulators to interpret the printouts of voters’ ballots. 

State Election Board member Sara Tindall Ghazal said that Wednesday’s meeting was to evaluate how the board would respond to the allegations in Coffee County, part of a scheme to legitimize the unfounded conspiracies that votes cast by Dominion machines could easily be flipped in order to steal the 2020 election from Trump.

She said, however, that no reputable sources are disputing the legitimacy of Joe Biden’s Georgia victory in 2020. And even if the board had the power, she said she would not have supported deploying emergency paper ballots.

The voting experts at Wednesday’s meeting “detailed all the ways in which our votes are safeguarded, and the overlapping security measures that would very quickly make apparent if there were nefarious actors or actions attempting to change the outcome of our elections,” Tindall Ghazal said. 

Morgan County Democratic Party Vice-Chair Jeanne Dufort said plenty of evidence in the case disputes Dominion’s rosy picture and asked the board whether it would ever take serious action to protect elections after ignoring repeated warnings. A prime example of a major threat is the Coffee County breach that involved some local GOP and election board leaders.

“If Georgia’s election software was pirated and distributed widely by well-funded characters from the stop the steal movement, if that didn’t scare you, what will?” 

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Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap

Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.

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