Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is both the Republican candidate for governor and in charge of Georgia’s elections in November. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: Judge says Kemp, others had ‘heads in sand’ over hacking threat

A federal judge ruled late Monday that Georgia can continue using electronic voting machines in November’s election despite concerns they are vulnerable to hacking. From our AJC colleague Mark Niesse:

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg denied a request for an injunction that would have forced the state’s 6.8 million voters to switch to hand-marked paper ballots.

Click here to read the entire ruling, or scroll through it below. In her ruling, Totenberg faulted the plaintiffs for asking too much, too late:

“The plaintiffs did not bring their preliminary injunction motions in a sufficient time span to allow for thoughtful, though expedited, remedial relief, despite the important, substantive content of their evidentiary submissions in connection with their preliminary injunction motions. There are no easy answers to the conflicts posed here….”

But Totenberg also leveled some criticism that could give heartburn to Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is both a Republican candidate for governor and in charge of the state’s election process. From the ruling:

“While plaintiffs’ motions for preliminary injunction … are denied, the Court advises the defendants that further delay is not tolerable in their confronting and tackling the challenges before the state’s election balloting system. The state’s posture in this litigation – and some of the testimony and evidence presented – indicated that the defendants and state election officials had buried their heads in the sand.

“This is particularly so in their dealing with the ramifications of the major data breach and vulnerability at the Center for Election Services, which contracted with the Secretary of State’s Office, as well as the erasure of the Center’s server database and a host of serious security vulnerabilities permitted by their outdated software and system operations.”

Kemp did not react to the judge’s criticism. His statement, as delivered by his campaign:

“With this ruling behind us, we will continue our preparations for a secure, orderly election in November and move forward with the bipartisan SAFE Commission’s work to responsibly upgrade Georgia’s secure – but aging – voting system.

“As I have said many times over, our state needs a verifiable paper trail, but we cannot make such a dramatic change this election cycle.”

Abrams’ statement, sent by her campaign, didn’t address the Totenberg ruling at all. Said Abrams, in part:

“I know Georgians are hungry for leaders who will make sure every voice can count at the polls. As governor, I will continue to ensure our elections are safe, secure, and accessible…”

Read the entire ruling here:

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Jimmy Carter will campaign with Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for governor, in the former president’s home of Plains today. The overt topic will be what the Abrams campaign calls “the importance of supporting rural medical facilities and rural healthcare professionals across Georgia.”

But the arc of history the Abrams-Carter alliance underlines can’t be ignored. Abrams is campaigning to become the first African-American and first female governor of Georgia.

In his 1970 run for the same office, Carter didn’t run as a segregationist – a stint in the Navy had brought him around on the issue. But he was criticized for accepting endorsements from his segregationist predecessors, former Govs. Lester Maddox and Marvin Griffin, and for his pursuit of George Wallace voters of the period.

Another topic that could come up: Carter is something of an expert on ballot security – paper ballots, as was the case at the time. In 1962, Carter ran for state senator, but overt cheating saw him finish second. From an archived 1987 interview:

“I went into the Quitman County box ahead, and I lost the Quitman County box by about 130 votes. You'd have to look up the exact figures. There were only three hundred people who voted in the county. There were 430 something ballots in the box. One-hundred-twenty something people voted alphabetically, and I watched as this hoodlum, Joe Hurst, put ballots in the box. He had an open pasteboard box with a hole about this big in the top, and that was a voting box. That was a ballot box. He would put ballots in. “He was so powerful that he had no concern about my seeing him perform these illegal acts. He was the state legislator. He was chairman of the Democratic party in Quitman County. He was a full-time employee of the Commissioner of Agriculture, Phil Campbell.”

Carter went to court to overturn the results, won his case, and was sworn in to the first of two terms in the Senate. Carter said he immediately introduced some reform measures, which were passed into law:

“One of the things it did was to prevent convicted felons from serving in the state legislature which ultimately caused Joe Hurst to have to resign. He was a convicted felon. He had been indicted eight times for manslaughter and other crimes…”

***

Nathan Deal’s selection of Charlie Bethel for the Georgia Supreme Court cemented the governor’s imprint on the state’s judiciary. But it also exposed a growing gender gap on the bench.

Come January, when retiring Justice Carol Hunstein vacates the bench and is replaced by John Ellington, only one of the court’s nine justices will be a woman. 

That will be Sarah Hawkins Warren, who was tapped by Deal in August to replace Britt Grant after she was elevated to the federal appeals court. 

She’s only the fourth female to serve on the state’s top court. And for more than two decades, there were two women serving concurrently: Hunstein and Leah Ward Sears, who stepped down in 2002.

***

The governor also made another pick last week to the bench, tapping state Rep. Christian Coomer to the appeals court - and leaving his deep-red Cartersville-based district open. 

The Rome News-Tribune reports that he’s already lined up a likely successor: His father Ken Coomer, who has already amassed a slew of endorsements and a lot of campaign cash. From the story:

Ken Coomer is senior pastor at Adairsville Church of God. In his announcement, he said he already has over $60,000 in his campaign fund and endorsements from House Speaker David Ralston, Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, House Majority Leader Jon Burns and Majority Caucus Chair Matt Hatchett. Ruth Demeter, who chairs the Floyd County Democratic Party, said a decision has not yet been made on contesting the seat...

 ***

Fallout from The Washington Post’s on-the-record account from Christine Blasey Ford, accusing Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh of teenaged sexual misconduct, roiled Capitol Hill on Monday. The Senate Judiciary Committee announced it would postpone its initial confirmation vote and instead holding a public hearing with both Ford and Kavanaugh early next week.

U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson, who had both committed to voting for Kavanaugh last month, sought to stay out of the fray on Monday.

Perdue’s office released a statement ahead of the Judiciary Committee’s announcement saying the Republican was “confident Chairman Grassley and the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider any new information accordingly as they continue the confirmation process.”

Isakson said he’s “not going to discuss who, what, when or where with anybody until all the facts have come out.”

“Having them both (at the hearing) is very important to the integrity of the whole process,” he said of Ford and Kavanaugh.

Isakson wasn’t particularly pleased when we brought up his previous commitment to vote for Kavanaugh. “That’s not fair,” he said. Reporters “come down here when the facts change and say, ‘You said this before, now you’re saying this.’ The facts changed. With all the information that I had before, and I thought we were finishing, I intended to (support him). But now the new facts have come out, I’m not going to be closed-minded. I’ll listen.”

***

One local voice who remained firmly in Kavanaugh’s corner yesterday: Erick Erickson. A taste from the WSB host’s Twitter feed: 

“Here's the thing — for most of the Democrats and reporters there is nothing Kavanaugh can say or do to clear his name, which means this isn't about justice or truth. It's about political agendas.”

***

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is in Washington this morning, where she’s scheduled to huddle with Georgia’s two Republican senators. Leadership from the Beltline will also be in the meeting with David Perdue and Johnny Isakson, which we’re told is a periodic update on the project’s progress.  

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