By Tia Lynn Ivey
The coronavirus pandemic is encroaching upon every aspect of American life, including our elections. On the heels of Gov. Brian Kemp’s statewide Shelter-in-Place order last week, Georgians are petitioning state leaders to rethink the new voting machines in light of COVID-19, the highly contagious and potentially lethal upper-respiratory virus wreaking havoc across the globe.
Voting rights advocates fear the new touchscreen voting machines that Georgia spent $107 million on last year could pose a health risk to voters and poll workers during the upcoming primary election slated for May 19.
Due to the “excess touching and handling” required to cast ballots on Georgia’s new voting machines, a new push to scrap the already controversial system is underway. Advocates are asking Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to make the switch to paper ballots.
“Citing grave concerns about the public health risk caused by touchscreen voting machine use and related equipment requiring significant touching and handling by voters and poll workers, a coalition of organizations, physicians, candidates, and voters is seeking an immediate review of certain components prior to deployment in the upcoming May 19 election,” said a press release from The Georgia Advancing Progress PAC and the Coalition for Good Governance. The group requested that infectious disease and public health experts lead the system examination. The request filed with Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger cites the Georgia statute permitting 10 or more voters to request an examination of the safety of a voting system at any time.
According to the release, “The core components (ballot scanners and central server) of the new Dominion voting system can be used with either hand marked paper ballots or the touchscreen ballot marking devices. Using hand marked paper ballots (and disposable pens) greatly reduces the amount of touching and handling of plastic and metal surfaces required by use of the touchscreen-related units. The use of traditional paper ballots using only the core voting system components would eliminate scores of thousands of hours of programming, testing, transport and installation of touchscreen components by vendors and staff, while greatly reducing surfaces to be touched by the voters, and voters’ interactions with poll workers.”
Fearing in-person voting on Georgia’s new voting screens could further spread the coronavirus, these groups are asking state leaders to prioritize the health and lives of Georgia voters.
In a letter to Raffensperger, advocates argued for a paper ballot system. “Paper alternatives are readily available and do not require a comparable level of staff, vendor, and voter handling or human interaction. Poll workers can issue paper ballots in envelopes or paper sleeves from behind plexiglass shields. Use of the BMD components (touchscreens, printers, battery backups) adds approximately 80,000 unnecessary pieces of equipment to test, transport, install, clean, secure, maintain, and return to inventory after the election. In addition, use of the BMD components requires handling at least 100,000 plastic smart cards intended for reuse by voters and staff. Touchscreen use requires thousands of precious hours of staff and technician programming and testing, requiring teamwork in close quarters. Hand marked paper ballots do not require this labor-intensive work.”
According to the release, the new request is driven by a concern for the health of Georgia voters and poll workers.
“The Georgia Advancing Progress PAC prioritizes the health of our voters, especially during these unprecedented times as we fight a healthcare war against the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Cam Ashling, Chair of Georgia Advancing Progress PAC.“Anything we can do to reduce contamination risk of touchscreen voting will likely save lives. People should not have to risk their lives to exercise their constitutional rights to vote. We encourage all eligible voters to request an absentee ballot and vote from home. The GAPPAC supports moving the May Primary election to a later date, but if the touchscreens are planned for use in 2020, we request the reexamination of touchscreen voting machines prone to transmitting COVID-19 and unnecessarily putting lives at risk.”
Marilyn Marks, Executive Director of Coalition for Good Governance added, “Asking poll workers to spend scores of thousands of unneeded hours undertaking risky work in order to use the 80,000+ unnecessary touchscreen components is unconscionable during this public health crisis. Secretary Raffensperger should decertify the high-touch components of the system, which are unneeded anyway, as unsafe for use in Georgia’s elections during the pandemic. Traditional paper ballots can be used with far less health risk. Using only the core components of the new system with hand marked paper ballots was successfully tested in Cobb County in November. We believe that medical experts would recommend against the use of this unsafe equipment.”
According to the release, The Libertarian Party of Georgia, the Constitution Party of Georgia, Morgan and Newton County Democratic Party Committees, several physicians, candidates and voters also made the request for reexamination.
“Morgan County voters are proud to be among the state’s leaders in election turnout. We are encouraging voters to take advantage of mail voting, but we know that many voters prefer to cast their vote in person,” said Jeanne Dufort, representing the Morgan County Democratic Committee. “We simply must ensure that voters are safe, no matter how they choose to cast their ballot. And we must protect our poll workers.”
Ricardo Davis, Constitution Party Chair, said, “In the midst of our current public health emergency our state’s leaders must not only inspire our fellow Georgians to work together for the common good, but also act with integrity and wisdom for the common good. The Constitution Party of Georgia joins this petition, recognizing the extraordinary current public health challenges, as well as our long-standing concerns regarding the current system and its implementation, demand more than a dismissive consideration to maintain the people’s confidence.”
According to the release, “The group indicated that they would not pay the standard $32,500 reexamination cost, given the limited scope of the work to be performed and the Secretary of State’s responsibility to initiate such a system review in this crisis without voters’ demanding it.”