Georgia voters challenge certification of elections system

    Today is likely one of the last chances many Georgia voters will get to use the state's old balloting technology as they go to the polls to decide local elections. Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

    Election security advocates are pushing for a federal judge to press pause on Georgia’s rollout of $107 million-worth of new ballot machines ahead of next year’s election cycle.

    After a key ruling in federal court last week, voters suing the Georgia Secretary of State’s office over the state’s old touchscreen ballots filed an amended complaint Friday that asks for an injunction against the use of the new ballot-marking devices. The filing contends those devices give “no greater guarantee than the (old) system” that votes in Georgia “will be accurately recorded and tabulated.”

    By next year’s primaries, the new machines are designed to record votes in a barcode and print paper copies of the ballot for a voter’s review before being scanned.

    Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office offered reassurance in the past that the new devices will produce accurate results once they’re brought online. Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs contacted by phone Monday said the agency would comment on the amended complaint but did not provide a response in time for publication.

    Critics of ballot-marking devices prefer hand-marked paper ballots. They argue the devices are open to hacking and other manipulation since they rely on computer software.

    The state just awarded Dominion Voting Systems the contract to implement the new process. The device’s proponents stress they are secure and prevent problems that plague  all-paper voting forms, such as ballot stuffing.

    The state’s new ballot machines are required to be up and running for the 2020 primaries in March, according to a ruling U.S. Northern District Court Judge Amy Totenberg issued last week. In the event the state is unable to install new machines in Georgia’s 159 counties in time, Totenberg also ordered officials to draw backup plans involving hand-marked paper ballots if the March deadline is missed.

    The suing voters are still weighing legal options given the tight timetable, said David Cross, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney representing the voters.

    “We certainly want to get in front of that,” Cross said by phone Monday,.

    Meanwhile, the nonprofit Coalition for Good Governance also plans to file a supplemental complaint that will make “constitutional arguments” opposing the Georgia Assembly’s decision in April to select ballot-marking devices as the vehicle for the state’s overhauled election system, said Marilyn Marks, the group’s executive director. The coalition is a plaintiff in the 2017 lawsuit but not a party in last week’s amended complaint.

    “We’re trying to stop (the state) before they install these devices in the coming year,” Marks said by phone Monday.

    Separately, a petition requesting the certification process start over for the new ballot devices was submitted Monday to the Secretary of State’s office. The petition the group spearheaded says state officials skipped several steps in examining the devices before certifying them earlier this month. State law requires 10 signatures for such a petition can move forward. More than 1,450 signatures were collected over the weekend for the petition, according to a news release from the coalition.

    Raffensperger dismissed the petition’s claims in a statement Monday to the Associated Press.

    Beau Evans
    Beau Evans has covered local and state government and breaking news in New Orleans and California. He’s reported on immigration issues, the threat of rising seas to coastal areas, public safety and hurricanes. At The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Evans detailed the critical role government plays to ensure that people in a community have access to clean water and other public needs. In 2018, his investigative reporting revealed top officials at New Orleans’ cash-poor water utility dealt themselves huge raises, prompting several to resign. Evans’ prior reporting was in West Marin north of San Francisco for The Point Reyes Light. Evans is an Atlanta native who graduated with honors from The Lovett School and is an honors graduate of North Carolina’s Davidson College. Beau was with the Georgia Recorder until January 4th, 2020.

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