Georgia GOP senators put elections lawyer, Dominion Systems exec on 2024 elections hot seat

By: - November 1, 2023 6:34 pm

A student casts his ballot at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion in the 2021 Senate runoff. John McCosh/Georgia Recorder

Correction: An earlier version of this story should have said Georgia election officials will conduct a limited test of new security software for electronic voting machines ahead of the 2024 contests.

Georgia Senate Republicans on Wednesday grilled state election officials and a Dominion Voting System representative over the election equipment security protocols that will be tested on a limited basis in municipal elections in time for the 2024 election.

A number of unfounded conspiracy theories about fraudulent votes supposedly cast in the 2020 presidential election swirled among Republicans after Donald Trump’s defeat in the 2020 presidential election. That resulted in a 2021 overhaul of Georgia’s election laws and increased scrutiny over the security of Georgia’s electronic voting system.

In reality, those questions were percolating a few years before the 2020 presidential election. The nonprofit Coalition of Good Governance is behind a long-running lawsuit challenging Georgia’s reliance on electronic voting systems.

Georgia has been using Dominion’s election equipment since 2019 in all 159 counties, which includes 34,000 ballot machines and several thousand scanners.

On Wednesday, state GOP leaders and representatives of voting security organizations took aim at the state using Dominion paper ballots that are verified with a printed paper ballot marked with a voter’s vote. The voter can read and verify their choices before the ballot is scanned and tabulated.

State officials under GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger on Wednesday defended a statewide election system that is certified by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission following rigorous federal certification procedures.

“We have that paper trail to allow us to go back and do an audit and ensure that the votes were tabulated accurately,” the secretary of state’s General Counsel Charlene McGowan said. “Even President Trump’s director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency called the 2020 election the most secure election in American history.”

Prior to elections, McGowan said that the voting equipment is rigorously tested to ensure that it is functioning properly. Voters’ selections are verified before paper ballots are tabulated.

McGowan said she understands the reason people question why the state has not already fully installed voting software upgrades despite it being available.

“I have given you the 40,000 reasons why we have not been able to do it up to this date,” McGowan said. “There is a process that we have to follow that we are working through that is required by law.

“We feel that this is a responsible and reasonable course of action because what is critical to us is that we set up our local election officials for success,” McGowan said.

A new version of the Dominion voting software recently released was certified by the independent U.S. Election Assistance Commission in March has not yet been used by any state in a major election.

Over 100 municipal elections are underway in Georgia, and five of those counties are participating in a pilot program testing Dominion ballot marking devices.

The machines have the ability to detect the paper but are not able to detect whether it is a real ballot or a copy of a ballot. The security paper is used for all ballots which includes auditing elections.

“I think more than anything is the trust capability of the voter. He looks at it, he reads it, but the QR code is what captures the data. It is not his actual ballot,” said state Sen. Marty Harbins, a Tyrone Republican.  

For 2024, the state is rolling out a new security measure known as parallel monitoring. It involves staff visiting local election offices while voting is underway to determine if equipment has been tampered with and if results on paper ballots are accurately replicated.

State Sen. Max Burns, chairman of the Ethics Committee, asked if anyone could remotely alter Dominion’s voting devices. The Sylvania Republican said he did not want the election system to make a step forward, only to fall back further on security.

Georgia and Dominion election officials were questioned Wednesday about relying on voting machines that cannot distinguish  real ballots from copies.

“I think more than anything is the trust capability of the voter. He looks at it, he reads it, but the QR code is what captures the data. It is not his actual ballot,” Harbins said.

Georgia elections director Blake Evans responded that the voter reviews the ballot text and scans the QR code. He said that the “parallel monitoring” process ensures that what’s being deployed is working effectively.

“The text on the ballot is the big control of what matters,” he said. “I have complete faith and trust in our county election officials.”

Raffensperger has defended the system the state purchased in 2019 as being secure and battle tested and that other measures are in place to protect the system during next year’s election cycle. The state election chief has argued against rushing through an update of voting software before it is rigorously tested.

The debate over electronic voting machines versus paper ballots also was a focus of conspiracy theorists who blamed the Dominion’s system for former President Donald Trump’s narrow loss to Joe Biden in 2020.

Multiple state and federal investigations found no evidence of voting fraud in the 2020 presidential election, and multiple recounts confirmed Biden’s victory in Georgia.

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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. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo.

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