Bill for new Georgia voting machines clears Senate committee

A Senate committee voted along party lines Wednesday to replace Georgia's voting system so that it includes paper ballots, clearing the way for final votes on the legislation.

On a 7-5 vote in the Senate Ethics Committee, Republicans supported the bill to convert the state to a $150 million voting system that combines touchscreens and computer-printed ballots. Democrats opposed the measure, saying ballots bubbled in with a pen would be more secure from hacking and more accurately reflect voters' choices.

The legislation was introduced Feb. 14, passed the state House last week and now is set for a vote in the full state Senate.

The switch from Georgia's 17-year-old electronic voting machines to a new statewide system is one of the most significant measures in this year's legislative session after a heated election in November. Critics of Georgia's current voting machines, including a federal judge, have said they're vulnerable to tampering, with no way to verify their results.

"Right now if i go to vote on a machine, there's no way to know for sure that my vote was counted," said state Sen. Brian Strickland, a Republican from McDonough. "With this bill, now I'll see a printout before I scan it in."

The committee voted to reject several proposed amendments from Democrats that would have prohibited encoding votes in bar codes, required forensic examinations of voting machines and increased the number of touchscreens in each precinct.

An attorney for Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said eliminating bar codes and compelling audits would have limited the state’s options when it decides among voting system companies. The attorney also said one voting machine per 250 voters would be adequate.

Democrats said the Georgia General Assembly and election officials should do more to instill confidence among voters.

"There's a strong thread of concern about the credibility of the elections in our state," said state Sen. Ed Harbison, a Democrat from Columbus. "We all want to make sure that we can do the right thing and make sure that we got a fair election."

But the Republican-run committee adopted several other Democratic-endorsed recommendations for House Bill 316.

The legislation now ensures that voters will be able to review their printed ballots before they’re counted and requires audits of election results to be in place in time for the November 2020 presidential election.

The voting machine bill has moved quickly through the legislative process after a commission created by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp recommended in January that the state use a touchscreen-and-paper voting system, called ballot-marking devices.

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