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Federal judge rules in Georgia election case about paperless voting machines

Georgia Secretary of State addresses concerns over cyber security for voting

In this file video from November 2016, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp addresses concerns over cyber security for voting in Columbus before the Election Day.
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In this file video from November 2016, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp addresses concerns over cyber security for voting in Columbus before the Election Day.

A federal judge in Atlanta didn’t put a halt to the use of voting machines in Georgia for this year’s election, but she also wrote that election officials “buried their heads in the sand” about possible vulnerabilities with the machines.

Assessing the arguments involves a real Catch-22, wrote U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, in a ruling published late Monday night.

On the one hand, the group of Georgia voters and the nonprofit Coalition for Good Governance have shown a real threat of harm to their constitutional interests, wrote Totenberg.

The plaintiffs say the machines are vulnerable to hacking, and because the process doesn’t involve a paper trail, voters can’t have confidence in the ballot count or any audit.

On the other hand, switching to paper ballots less than two months before Election Day could just as readily jeopardize the upcoming elections, voter turnout and orderly administration of the election, she wrote. That’s exactly what lawyers representing the state and other defendants argued in her courtroom last week.

Totenberg turned down the plaintiffs’ request that she stop use of the machines before the Nov. 6 election. But in a 46-page ruling, Totenberg said the state had stood by for far too long, given the “mounting tide of evidence of the inadequacy and security risks” of Georgia’s voting machinery and software.

There has been no evidence of tampering with Georgia’s election results. However, security risks are part of why Virginia, for example, ditched paperless voting.

Georgia is one of only five states that uses such machines statewide, though the state does fall back on paper in some circumstances, like absentee voting. In those cases, a voter fills in a bubble next to a candidate name and the ballot is scanned for tabulation by a machine.

The suit came at a very awkward time for one of the defendants, Secretary of State Brian Kemp. He’s the Republican nominee for governor this year.

Kemp spoke to reporters Monday morning, after a campaign event, but before the ruling was published. At that time, Kemp said he’s confident with where the state and the counties are with readiness to vote using the existing “secure system.”

“We’ve let it be known that it would be a disaster to move to anything else this close to the election,” Kemp said. “So we’re planning to have the election on the current system that we have.”

Director of Elections Nancy Boren, with help from a former employee now working in the Adams County, Colo., elections office, was able to overhaul the local voting machines for little cost to taxpayers in 2016.

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