Georgia’s voting system in great shape

Georgia is four months away from hosting its first election of the 2016 cycle, but campaign ads are already appearing. Millions of Georgians will go to the polls next year to cast ballots in the presidential, U.S. Senate and other races. In fact, my office estimates we will have the largest voter turnout in the history of the state. But we are ready.

Our voter registration and election system is one of the best in the nation. Since becoming secretary of state in 2010, I have implemented many new solutions to ensure our elections are secure, accessible and fair.

Last year, my office announced two new technologies to help people register to vote: Online Voter Registration and the GA Votes app. These online platforms allow residents 24/7 access, and more than 100,000 Georgians have used these technologies. Never before in the state’s history has voter registration been so accessible.

Likewise, Georgia’s voting system is ready and able to take us through the 2016, 2018 and 2020 cycles and beyond. Though the system was first implemented statewide in 2002, older components have been replaced over time, and it remains as reliable today as when it was delivered.

Our voting system consists of more than 27,000 touchscreen voting units, 159 servers, 7,300 electronic pollbooks, 3,000 barcode scanners and over 100,000 voter access cards. All of these pieces are cared for and stored under strict federal and state guidelines of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission and the State Election Board.

Unlike most states, Georgia has a dedicated third-party certification agency at the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University. The center’s mission is to test and care for our elections system to ensure all components work properly and adhere to legal guidelines.

The center tests the system regularly. Each time a component is changed, the entire system is retested to ensure there are no unintended consequences. Additionally, before every election, the system undergoes logic and accuracy testing to ensure all ballot marking functionality is working as it should. If any abnormality is detected in a unit, that unit is pulled from use, tested further and repaired if necessary.

This past spring during a regular assessment, 98 percent of voting system components were certified in full working order. The remaining 2 percent are slated for repair or replacement.

Some people try to compare Georgia’s system to personal computers, laptops or other electronic devices that are routinely transported and used daily. This comparison is fraught with pitfalls. Think of a voting system as a car that gets driven five times a year. It’s more important to check the odometer than the registration date. Georgia’s touchscreen voting units are not even capable of being connected to the Internet. It is a completely self-contained system that ensures security in our elections.

Stability also is important. A stable, predictable system that is accurate, secure and reliable has immense value to the state. Voters know how to use it. Election officials know how to prepare and deploy it. Technicians know how to support it.

When a new system is deployed, all of that certainty and institutional knowledge is replaced by some level of risk. Newness and innovation have appeal, but good elections are less about innovation and more about reliable outcomes.

There are over 10,000 election jurisdictions in the U.S. In most states, local elections officials are left to fend for themselves, and many will no doubt find themselves struggling to field effective voting systems in the coming years.

Georgia is unique in its adoption of a uniform voting system; creation of a center to support that system; rigorous testing and certification processes; strict guidelines for storage and maintenance of voting system components, and commitment to ensuring every voter — from suburban to urban to rural — has the same opportunity to cast his or her ballot in full secrecy, knowing the vote is counted accurately and reliably.

Brian Kemp is Georgia secretary of state.