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Legislature's push for paper ballots raises questions
Lawmakers consider bill to replace electronic voting machines
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Dinah Lothridge casts her ballot during Election Day at Brenau Downtown Center in Gainesville, on Nov. 7, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

ATLANTA — Georgia lawmakers are preparing to replace the state’s old electronic voting machines.

But organizations seeking secure elections say they’re worried that Georgia could end up with an untrustworthy and expensive new system.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported lawmakers haven’t fully committed to paper ballots, which some see as a more secure way of conducting elections.

A bill to replace all of Georgia’s 27,000 voting machines in time for the 2020 presidential election has cleared the state Senate and is pending in the House.

Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, says her group has been trying to get changes into the bill that would make paper the official ballot of record.

“Electronics make life easier, but they also can be manipulated,” Henderson said.

Georgia’s current voting machines rely on memory cards that don’t leave a paper trail, meaning there’s no way to verify the accuracy of election results. 

About 70 percent of the nation uses paper ballots. Only Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, New Jersey and South Carolina rely entirely on direct-recording electronic voting machines without a paper backup, according to Verified Voting, an election integrity organization.

Georgia needs to change its voting system after technology experts exposed security vulnerabilities in such machines during a computer hacking conference last year in Las Vegas, said state Sen. Bruce Thompson, the sponsor of Senate Bill 403.

There’s no evidence hackers have penetrated voting machines in Georgia, but the Las Vegas conference showed what could happen.

“The citizens of Georgia right now are very concerned. Their confidence in elections is not very high,” said Thompson, R-White. “It’s time for us to implement a system that will provide a paper ballot and audits so we can do spot checks.”

Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential campaign also heightened the need to protect the sanctity of elections. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security said in August 2016 that Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 states. Georgia was not among those states, the Journal-Constitution reported.

It’s unclear what kind of voting system Georgia might end up with.

The bill calls for election companies to submit bids starting in January, and for Georgia’s incoming secretary of state to pick an election system. Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp leaves that office at the end of this year.

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