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Paper ballots back in court

Staff Written Front Page, News

By Patrick Yost

Editor 

Georgia’s voting system has garnered national scrutiny since the 2018 Midterm Election, with critics accusing old and new voting machines of posing security risks, vote count inconsistencies and constitutional violations. 

Paper ballot advocates are headed to federal court this Thursday, Sept. 10 to argue against Georgia’s new $120,000 voting system, which is comprised of Dominion Ballot Marking Device (BMD) voting machines and to advocate for more voter protection, paper ballot backups and election oversight. 

“The State’s intended use of the Dominion BMD system in upcoming elections will cause imminent violations of the fundamental right to vote, and of the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection,” said the complaint, spearheaded by the  Coalition for Good Governance, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that focuses on election transparency and verifiability. “We ask for an injunction effective immediately  that will require hand-marked paper ballots, reduction of scanning thresholds so that every voter mark must be reviewed by humans before the possible vote is discarded, and meaningful audits.”

After a slew of problems with the new voting system caused unprecedented long voting lines in Georgia Presidential Primary, critics have stepped up legal efforts to challenge the new voting system, arguing that the new voting process is too convoluted and confusing while still remaining vulnerable to privacy violations and hacking interference. 

Federal Judge Amy Totenberg will hear the case this Thursday.  

Jeanne Dufort, a member of the Morgan County Democrats, also signed on to the lawsuit, becoming a spokesperson about the election controversy involving “missing votes” in the the 2018 Lieutenant Governor race. Dufort has become a voting rights activist, signing on to the Coalition for Good Governance’s lawsuit.

“Voting should not be an endurance contest – for voters or poll workers. Using the buggy and resource intensive new voting system has caused long lines and voter uncertainty,” said Dufort.  “Using the $3,000 ballot marking system in place of a $1 pen wasted  taxpayer dollars, and has burdened counties with millions in additional costs. We hope the Court puts voters first, and finds in our favor.”

The lawsuit alleges evidence has been uncovered through discovery showing evidence of missing votes and voting machine vulnerabilities to hacking and Russian malware. 

The complaint filing includes “actual ballot images” that what uncounted votes look like. The complaint also includes “screen capture showing the new central computers were not ‘hardened’ and include a gaming program associated with malware of Russian origin.” The complaint also alleges there is evidence that Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has “issued instructions to reduce pre-election Logic and Accuracy testing to unsafe levels.”

Raffensperger has expressed confidence in Georgia’s new Dominion voting system. 

“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.

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.

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. “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 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. 

“The black box system election results simply cannot be verified or audited—just like the electronic system used now that lost 800 Morgan County votes for Lieutenant Governor last year,” said Marks. “This new electronic voting technology is being rapidly implemented in numerous states where election officials have not considered the serious security and constitutional problems with this unnecessary technology. Ours is the first challenge in the nation to this seriously flawed voting technology, and the case is expected to have an impact nationally as we expose the alarming flaws in barcode voting systems.”

“The State’s…new voting system takes the worst aspects of the current, unconstitutional system and doubles down on it.  Imagine if you had to vote by telling a human stranger your preferences, and then they filled out a ballot for you in a language you couldn’t read, and that’s the ballot you had to cast,” said  Robert McGuire, attorney for Coalition for Good Governance. “That is the new system, only instead of a human, you have to trust the machine—one that we know can and has been hacked in at least 20 different ways.  We look forward to proving that the new system is even less secure, less accountable, and more unconstitutional than the current touchscreen system. Normally the curtain is supposed to be outside the voting booth, but Georgia’s proposed new system puts up a curtain between the voter and the ballot.  The right to vote is an illusion if you can’t even tell whether the vote you are casting is the vote you want to cast because a hackable computer has encoded your votes in a barcode that you can’t read.   Georgia expects voters just to trust the machine, and all the while the State knows the machine is hackable in at least 20 different ways.  We look forward to proving that the new system is even less secure, less accountable, and more unconstitutional than the current touchscreen system.”  

Judge Totenberg will hear the case this Thursday and Friday. 

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