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Why Hall’s elections director supports ballot-marking machines
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Lori Wurtz, director of the Hall County Elections Office. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County’s elections office supports the Georgia House of Representatives subcommittee approved legislation calling for the state to use electronic touch screen voting machines that print paper ballots.

Lori Wurtz, the county’s elections director, said the recommendation of ballot-marking devices is the best way to accommodate voters with disabilities.

“We believe that would be the only option that would serve all of the voters in Georgia, because with only a paper ballot, someone who has certain disabilities would be unable to vote unassisted,” Wurtz said Friday. “And on the voting machine that we currently have and the one that they are proposing, those with disabilities would be able to maintain the integrity of a private vote and vote without assistance if that is what they so desire to do.”

State Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem, the author of the bill, also has said that ballot-marking devices would best serve voters with disabilities.

Hall currently uses about 300 electronic touchscreen machines for voting, but they do not print paper ballots for voters to review. Wurtz said that several vendors make ballot printing devices.

“It appears, based on the information that we’ve been given and demonstrations that we have seen, that this would be a little quicker than the current system that we have and that it would benefit voters because most of the options would include a paper printout where they could see on paper what they’ve voted,” Wurtz said. “I think that would do leaps and bounds for the transparency of elections.”

Marked paper ballots would then be fed into a scanner and kept in a locked bin, Wurtz said.

State Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, said he also thought ballot-marking machines that print a ballot that can be scanned were the best option.

Hand-marked paper ballots could lead to errors if voters accidentally leave stray marks or mark the ballot incorrectly, Dunahoo said.

“What the process is, to double and triple-check, is to use a machine of modern technology to push a button or select on the screen who you’re going to vote for,” he said.

Dunahoo said he also likes how voters would be able to review the machine’s printout to make sure they were casting their votes correctly.

“I don’t think it’s anything about Republican, Democrat, Libertarian,” he said. “The people who vote should be heard, but there are rules and regulations that need to apply.”

Initial statewide cost estimates for electronic ballot markers are about $150 million, the amount set aside in Gov. Brian Kemp’s 2020 budget proposal. Initial costs for hand-marked ballots would be about $30 million.

The bill has moved on to the House Governmental Affairs committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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