Georgia is moving to roll out these new touchscreen voting machines in time for the March 2020 Presidential primary here. Judge Totenberg’s order made clear her doubts about whether Georgia can successfully complete this project before then. As a result, the court ordered the state to develop a Plan B that, if needed, would use scanners provided by new vendor Dominion Voting or others to count hand-marked paper ballots. We should not have to go there.
It’s clear that Georgia has much to accomplish before the 2020 presidential primary. The court’s order notes, and we agree, that the state took a significant step forward in allocating funding for a new voting system. The contract to purchase Dominion’s Ballot Marking Devices (BMD’s) is the result of that legislation and appropriation.
We urge the Secretary of State’s office to move as quickly and effectively as possible to make all necessary improvements to the state’s election apparatus between now and next March. It should be sobering to current state officials that a federal court’s order reads that, “The defendants have previously minimized, erased, or dodged the issues underlying this case. Thus, the Court has made sure that the past is recounted frankly in this Order, to ensure transparency for the future.”
Georgia can, and must, do better going forward. That is the charge now before current Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, elected in 2018. Even if his office proves up to the task and implements the chosen new system with absolute fidelity and no missteps, not everyone will be satisfied, we admit.
There are computer science, statistical auditing, and elections experts and, yes, activists who believe nothing less than a hand-marked paper ballot is acceptable. For them, the barcode to be used by Georgia’s new system to scan ballots is a non-starter because the code is not decipherable by human eyes. They also are concerned about the ongoing risk of hostile hacking of electronic election systems.
The risk of hacking may be the only point on which the varying factions agree to some extent. That bit of common ground should be seen as indicating the seriousness of the election security task before Georgia officials. It should not be ignored or underestimated.
We make that point even while acknowledging that old-school election interference was not uncommon against a paper balloting system. As we wrote in an August 11 editorial: “Even the all-paper system urged by some voting rights advocates was vulnerable to malicious interference or errors of interpretation, history shows. Old-timers have spoken of full paper-ballot boxes ending up at the bottom of lakes.
“And memories are still fresh of the bitter arguments over ‘hanging chad’ on paper ballots in the 2000 election.”
Also on today’s page, we have an opinion by a computer science and information security expert who argues for paper ballots. And we have also gathered previous points made by Secretary of State Raffensperger or his designee on this issue.
All of this ongoing debate and action will be worth if it if Georgia ends up with a voting system that is secure and accurate – and fully tested and operational by next March.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board.