A voting machine demonstration at the state Capitol earlier in the session. Bob Andres, bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

The Jolt: On the unspoken costs associated with new voting machines

With Crossover Day hoopla past, look for Republicans in the state Capitol to accelerate passage of House Bill 316, the measure that would authorize $150 million for the purchase of a new touch-screen voting machine system.

The bill passed out of the Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday, and could quickly come up for a floor vote. Senate Republicans have two reasons for greasing the skids. First, there are the logistics associated with getting an entirely new system up and running in time for the 2020 election cycle.

But there’s another reason: Democrats as well as others who demand a system auditable by human eye-sight rather than machines are beginning to coalesce in opposition.

We’ve told you about the back-and-forth between Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office and Jason Pye of FreedomWorks over what Pye has said are inaccurate cost assessments associated with the legislation.

This Politico.com piece, published Saturday, can be considered part of the effort.

As the weekend began, opponents of HB 316 put out a statement from Tony Shaffer, a Donald Trump supporter and cyber-intelligence figure who is now acting president of London Center for Policy Research. From Shaffer:

While the Georgia Secretary of State's office has argued that this BMD proposal would be cheaper than the paper ballot alternative, his office has put out a misleading analysis which would have Georgians believe that a simple paper ballot and pen would cost taxpayers more than a $3,000 computerized ballot printer in each voting booth.

He misjudges the intelligence of Georgia’s taxpayers, who will eventually realize that they are paying over a hundred and fifty million dollars needlessly for this boondoggle. They will also pay millions more for licensing, programming, storing and transporting these machines every election, plus $50 million for 20 years of bond interest for their purchase, this while the BMDs only have a ten- year shelf life.

Annual costs of a new voting system, and how they would be divvied up between state government and local governments, has so far escaped detailed discussion.

To that point, we’ve been handed an unredacted copy of an August 2018 response by Election Systems and Software, to a request for information from the task force put together by Brian Kemp as secretary of state.

ES&S is considered the company with the pole position in bidding for the new system. The request outlines several scenarios. One matches closely with statements from Raffensperger and legislative sponsors, who say that the machines are likely to cost $100 million, while $50 million would be needed for training.

“Method 2,” as outlined by ES&S, would be eligible for a $12.265 million “customer discount,” which would bring the hardware costs down to $99,999.250.

That scenario would also require $5.7 million in annual licensing and maintenance fees that would be paid by – well, that’s an interesting question. Click here to download the document, or stroll through it below -- the cost figures are at the bottom:

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The most popular sign of a Democratic resurgence in Georgia has been the performance of Stacey Abrams in the 2018 race for governor. But there is another -- one that has to do with the distribution of actual power.

Last week, while few were paying attention, Democrat Kevin Abel was elected to the state Board of Transportation by state lawmakers representing the Sixth Congressional District.

Abel, you’ll recall, ran an unsuccessful campaign against Lucy McBath in the Sixth District primary last year. He replaces Mark Burkhalter, the former state Republican lawmaker who served briefly as House speaker.

Abel’s election raises the number of Democrats on the 14-member state DOT board to six. That’s right. Democrats are now one vote shy of parity on one of the most important non-legislative bodies in the state.

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The grassroots frustration over House Speaker David Ralston boiled over in a string of GOP meetings held this weekend. 

More than a dozen county party operations passed resolutions critical of Ralston after an Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News investigation questioned his frequent use of a legislative exemption to delay court dates in his private law practice. 

Among them: Cherokee, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett.

The DeKalb version of the resolution called for Ralston’s resignation “to allow him time to provide his clients with the zealous defense that is their Constitutional right.”

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We told you over the weekend that former state senator David Shafer of Duluth announced at the Gwinnett GOP meeting that he was running to lead the state party.

Two others have already announced for the chairmanship race that will be settled in May: Scott Johnson of Cobb County and Bruce Azevedo of Forsyth County.

Another highlight of the Gwinnett event: Edward Muldrow was elected Gwinnett GOP chair and Surrea Ivy as vice-chair. They are the first African-Americans in the top two leadership positions of the county GOP in its history.

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Politics on the Democratic side of Gwinnett County are roiling, too. Earlier this morning, we told you that former Fulton County commission chairman John Eaves, new to Gwinnett, has filed the paperwork needed to enter the Seventh District congressional race.

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Some major staff changes are in store for U.S. Sen. David Perdue’s Washington office. Chief of Staff Derrick Dickey is moving over to the Republican’s re-election campaign, and his longtime deputy Megan Whittemore is taking the helm. 

An Eric Cantor alumna who began working for Team Perdue ahead of the 2014 general election, Whittemore has been the Republican’s communications chief and, more recently, his deputy chief of staff. 

Dickey will continue serving as a senior adviser to Perdue, in addition to running his 2020 re-election bid. A former press aide for former Gov. Sonny Perdue, Dickey handled David Perdue’s communications strategy when the former CEO was a newbie to Georgia politics. 

We’re told Whittemore’s promotion will mark only the second time that Georgia has had two female chiefs of staff serving concurrently in the U.S. Senate. The last time was back in 2013, when Camila Knowles began working as U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ top staffer while Joan Kirchner Carr ran Johnny Isakson’s team. 

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Democratic state Rep. Mack Jackson of Sandersville is feeling the heat - from his own party. 

The pastor was the only Democrat to break party ranks and vote for the Republican-backed “heartbeat bill,” HB 481, that aims to outlaw most abortions. 

And since that vote late Thursday, Democrats are actively scouring for a primary opponent to challenge him next year.

Consider this from state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, a House Democratic leader who Tweeted this message to the state party’s recruitment chair:

“Ahem. Are we allowed to send over candidates to run against democratic incumbents that wont let me choose what to do with my body?”

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Former Starbucks chief executive Howard Schultz brings his book tour -- and his prospective candidacy for president -- to Atlanta tonight with a signing at the Carter Center at 7 p.m.

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We’ve told you before of state Rep. Colton Moore, R-Trenton, who cast one of two votes in the House against HR 1, a resolution to name the state’s new judicial building after former Gov. Nathan Deal. Moore has now written a letter to Brian Kemp, asking the new governor to veto HR 1, which has now been approved by both chambers. Writes Moore:

Respectfully, such a designation would be highly inappropriate for a building where the Georgia Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will be housed. Former Governor Deal continues to be extremely active in Georgia politics. He owns and operates a lobbying firm which already represents clients, such as Pruitt Health, that have significant cases before these State appellate courts on matters ranging from wrongful death to fraud against state agencies.

Should you approve HR1, these clients and their critical court cases will be heard in the very building named after the lobbying firm they have hired. This is a serious conflict of interest that eternally jeopardizes the crown jewel of justice in Georgia. Furthermore, potential challenges to executive actions taken by former Governor Deal’s administration, and appeals of such challenges, would be made to a court housed in a building named in his honor.

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