JOHN SPINK /JSPINK@AJC.COM

Opinion: Touchscreen voting with paper trail’s best for Ga.

The Georgia General Assembly recently passed House Bill 316, a voter-centric bill to update Georgia’s aging voting machines and enact new reforms to promote voter participation and bolster confidence. HB 316 will transfer our state to a touchscreen-marked paper ballot system with a new auditable paper ballot trail.

As a Registered Professional Engineer (PE), I have been trained to look for practical, commonsense solutions like touchscreen-marked paper ballots. This system balances the concerns from the academic and scientific community, disabled and non-disabled voters, and the election officials who work tirelessly to ensure the integrity of our elections.

The General Assembly was provided two useful roadmaps in crafting this legislation. First were the recommendations of the Secure, Accessible, and Fair Elections (SAFE) Commission, which was a nine-month study to determine Georgia’s best way forward. Complementing the SAFE Commission recommendations was a Study Report by The National Academies of Sciences-Engineering-Medicine, entitled, “Securing the Vote – Protecting American Democracy,” issued in fall 2018.

The National Academies consensus report recommended that elections should be conducted with human-readable paper ballots, either marked by hand or by ballot marking device. The SAFE Commission, meanwhile, found that touchscreen-marked paper ballots are the best option for our state.

When surveyed, over 94% of Georgia’s county election officials who run our elections preferred touchscreen ballot marking devices. Additionally, when Georgians were polled, regardless of political alignment, over 75% of both groups of Georgians preferred touchscreen ballot marking devices. Common sense and practicality have prevailed in this decision-making process.

A very important measure in HB 316 will require Georgia’s next voting system to be certified by the United States Election Assistance Commission (EAC), adding yet another layer of security verification to bring Georgia’s voters peace of mind at the ballot box.

HB 316 has also adopted the number-one security measure recommended by experts: the auditable paper ballot trail. Going forward, we will now be able to perform physical recounts in close elections and begin implementing robust post-election, pre-certification audits to eliminate questions about election results and winner outcomes.

Some have championed hand-marked paper ballots but have minimized the importance of accessible elections. Touchscreen technology is the best way to ensure that our elderly and disabled voters – those most vulnerable — have the tools they need to participate in our elections. Thanks to large buttons, adjustable text size, and options for the vision- and physically- impaired, touchscreens make sure everyone has a voice in our republic.

Touchscreen-marked paper ballots are an accurate platform for elections that eliminate errors like partially bubbled ballots and under- or over-votes which obscure election results and often leave voter intent up to the discretion of election officials. Moreover, printed paper ballots also allow that each voter can double-check his or her choices before casting a final vote – guaranteeing the most accurate vote count possible.

Georgia has also incorporated another vital National Academies recommendation by allowing Georgia to participate in a system of cross-state matching of voter registrations to ensure voter rolls are as accurate as possible.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has rightly designated election systems as critical infrastructure. In addition to HB 316, my office will continue to strengthen our cybersecurity defenses to ensure our election system is more resilient. We understand that threats from bad actors and misinformed political leaders could sow doubt in our election results, harming our civic stability and confidence in our democratic institutions.

When it comes to the debate over Georgia’s new voting machines, the Office of Secretary of State is committed to a conversation grounded in facts and truths – and to a dialogue which considers all of the facets of these complex issues. HB 316 is the holistic solution for our state which, in addition to a number of forward-thinking election reforms, also brings our voters the most secure, accessible, and accurate elections.

Brad Raffensperger, PE, is Georgia Secretary of State.

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