Georgia officials defend timetable for election software update

Georgia officials plan to upgrade the state's Dominion Voting Systems software after the 2024 election. Photo credit: Georgia Secretary of State

Georgia officials plan to upgrade the state's Dominion Voting Systems software after the 2024 election. Photo credit: Georgia Secretary of State

State election officials Wednesday said it’s not practical to upgrade Georgia’s voting software as recommended before the 2024 presidential election.

Georgia only recently began evaluating the latest version of its Dominion Voting Systems software, representatives of the secretary of state’s office told the State Election Board. They said that evaluation will take months, and the software should not be rushed into use in a major election.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said the state’s existing software is secure and “battle-tested.”

Those assurances follow the release of a report that described numerous vulnerabilities in the election software. A federal cybersecurity review confirmed those vulnerabilities last year but found they could be addressed by standard security practices already used by most election offices.

Nonetheless, some critics and political leaders have questioned Raffensperger’s decision to delay the software update until 2025. Last week former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler called for an “emergency voting machine fix.” And on Monday Lt. Gov. Burt Jones pressed for a meeting with Raffensperger to discuss the decision to wait until after 2024 to upgrade the software.

“With ongoing cyberattacks on the rise every day, we must be vigilant about protecting and securing our voting system from any future interference in our elections,” Jones said.

Georgia tested its Dominion voting system in local elections in 2019 and used it statewide for the first time in 2020. Former President Donald Trump spread false claims that Democrats used the software to steal the election for Joe Biden. Numerous investigations debunked voting fraud claims, and multiple recounts confirmed Biden’s narrow victory.

Nonetheless, a judge last week released a previously sealed report that detailed vulnerabilities in the Dominion software. It found votes could be altered by someone with physical access to a voting touchscreen or by someone who gained access to the election management system computers.

The federal cybersecurity review found no evidence the vulnerabilities had ever been exploited.

That federal report recommended election officials upgrade to the latest version of the Dominion software as a security precaution.

Critics have blasted Raffensperger’s decision to wait.

“The path to the 2024 presidential election runs through Georgia, and it’s unfathomable why anyone would fail to protect our elections if they have the power to act,” Jeanne Dufort, a member of the Morgan County Democratic Committee, told the State Election Board on Wednesday.

Charlene McGowan, general counsel for the secretary of state, dismissed what she called “politicized attacks” by people who want to “sow distrust and cast doubt” on the accuracy of election results. She said the office “will not be reckless with the security and integrity of our election system.”

Deputy Election Director Michael Barnes cast doubt on whether it would even be possible to upgrade the software before 2024.

He told the board the software is not yet compatible with the poll pads election workers use to check voters in at precincts. He said Georgia also will need to upgrade the central units that run county election processes. That could require replacing equipment at a substantial — but as yet unknown — cost.

Barnes said the office also wants to watch what happens when a few counties in Ohio use the software for elections in August. They’ll be the first jurisdictions to use it in an election, and one of the counties has already decided to revert to a previous version so it can use its existing poll pads.

Finally, Barnes said the office wants to pilot the new software in Georgia municipal elections in November, just as it did with the original version in 2019. He said some problems only come to light under such real-world conditions.

After the pilot in November, Barnes doubted the state could be ready to use the software statewide in the presidential primary in March, given the time needed to prepare ballots and other pre-election necessities.

In the meantime, McGowan said the secretary of state’s office is taking numerous steps to ensure the existing Dominion hardware and software are secure. That includes security “health checks” of equipment and software in all 159 counties.

In a statement this week, Raffensperger said he welcomed the chance to meet with Jones or anyone else to discuss election security.

“Georgia’s voting system is secure and battle-tested, and we welcome all opportunities to point by point detail how the state is a national leader in secure, fair and accessible elections,” he said.