By Tia Lynn Ivey, Managing Editor
Morgan County is among the first in Georgia to receive its fleet of new voting machines. As of Dec. 19, just 25 counties out of 159 Georgia counties received the new voting equipment. Morgan County received 72 new voting machines on Dec. 20.
“It’s a lot,” said Jennifer Doran, election supervisor for Morgan County.
In all, the county received 72 touchscreen tablets and 72 printers.
“One of each makes a voting machine,” said Doran.
The county also received 10 ballot boxes, 10 precinct scanners and 32 poll pads.
All the equipment must be evaluated and tested before the public uses the new voting machines to cast ballots in the March 24 Presidential Primary election.
However, the county cannot conduct testing on the new equipment until the state delivers a server, central scanner ballot printer.
“I am hopeful we will be ready,” said Doran. “That state has promised we will have everything we need in time.”
Doran noted that since the new voting machines have more steps, the testing period will take much longer.
“We have double the equipment now, so that will double our testing time,” said Doran.
Doran and the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration are also looking for a new location at which to hold early voting.
“Space has been an issue for awhile, but now with the new equipment it’s more of an issue,” said Doran. “It’s cramped and requires more space for storage. We are hoping there are some options that will open up to us in the coming year to make voting easier for all voters.”
Georgia scrapped the old touchscreen voting system after a federal judge mandated its replacement.
In 2019, Federal Judge Amy Totenberg ruled Georgia’s current Direct Recording Electronic (DRE) voting system unconstitutional, ordering the system be thrown out by the end of 2019. The system came under scrutiny after complaints of malfunctioning machines, flipping votes, and tens of thousands of potential “missing votes” from the 2018 race for Georgia Lieutenant Governor.
In April 2019, Governor Brian Kemp signed House Bill 316 into law, which mandated a new uniform Ballot Marking Device (BMD) voting system be implemented throughout the State of Georgia.
The state awarded a $107 million contract with Dominion Voting System to provide 30,000 new voting machines in Georgia.
The new system is sort of a hybrid compromise between electronic touchscreens and paper ballots. The old DRE machines, which are touchscreens, do not provide any paper printout as a secondary record of votes.
On the new machines, voters will still select candidates via touchscreen, but after choosing, instead of casting the ballot electronically, the voter will press a “print your ballot” button.
A printer attached to the machine will print the ballot on a full sheet of paper which voters can review before inserting it into a scanner for tabulation. The paper ballots will be locked away in a ballot box incase they are needed for audits or recounts.
“Election security is my top priority,” said Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in a press release. “We look forward to working with national and local elections security experts to institute best practices and continue to safeguard all aspects of physical and cybersecurity in an ever-changing threat environment.”
However, critics point out the new machines are still vulnerable to hacking, tampering, and malfunctions.
“Morgan County voters should be sure that the local officials know that the new system is unacceptable and will not withstand public scrutiny,” said Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Good Governance Coalition, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on election transparency and verifiability. “The new barcode voting system is an insult to value of every Georgian’s vote. The new system converts the votes into an undecipherable QR code onto a so-called ‘paper ballot’ that forces the voters to cast votes that they cannot read. The readable text that the touchscreen prints on the paper card along with the official QR barcode vote is meaningless, providing no assurance that the vote is recorded as the voter intended. The obscure barcode is the official vote at every stage in the process. The ‘audits’ called for in the new law are meaningless and a waste of taxpayers’ funds.”
Marks’s group, who is challenging the new system in court, and other voting rights and election activists advocate for a paper ballot system in which ballots are submitted through an optical scanner. Marks believes the new system still leaves elections vulnerable to error.
For now, the Dominion Voting system is what voters will cast their ballots on in March for the Presidential Primary Election. Doran plans to hold a public demonstration on Thursday, Jan. 16 at the Morgan County Elections Registration building, located at 434 Hancock Street in Madison, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
“We want to give our citizens the chance to become familiar with the new voting machines,” said Doran. A representative from the Georgia Secretary of State’s voter outreach program will also attend and answer questions from the public.
“I think our voters will like the new system and enjoy its ease of use,” said Doran.