$300K fine sought against Georgia in paper ballots lawsuit

A federal judge is being asked to impose more than $300,000 in sanctions against Georgia over its reluctance to turn over election databases, a request that state attorneys say is unjustified because they need to protect election information.

The dispute in the lawsuit, which is demanding hand-marked paper ballots be used in elections, could end up costing Georgia taxpayers if U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg agrees to penalize the state.

The plaintiffs allege that Georgia election officials repeatedly obstructed efforts to inspect an elections database for tampering or flaws. Called the General Election Management System (GEMS) database, it contains programming for ballots used statewide.

But attorneys for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger say they wanted to ensure that election information was secure before disclosing it. After they eventually turned over the database this summer, the plaintiffs didn't find any infections or problems, according to the state.

Still, the plaintiffs say the state misled the court by contending the database was unique and contained confidential information.

“State defendants repeatedly misrepresented to this court critical facts regarding Georgia’s GEMS database … as part of a sustained campaign to obstruct highly relevant discovery,” the plaintiffs wrote in an Oct. 11 motion.

State attorneys wrote in a response Friday that they worked in good faith to ensure security protocols before handing over critical election components. If Totenberg does impose sanctions, the state asked that they amount to no more than about $29,000.

“Plaintiffs’ entire case was premised on the idea that state defendants had paid too little attention to election security. Plaintiffs now seek to sanction state defendants for putting too great a priority on the security of election systems,” according to the state’s court filing.

Totenberg ruled in August that Georgia voters can continue casting ballots on the state's electronic voting machines this year, but paper ballots must be used starting next year.

Georgia election officials are installing a $107 million voting system that generates computer printed paper ballots. The lawsuit is now focused on whether the new voting system will remain vulnerable to hacking, malware or misconfiguration.