Georgia elections chief: Paper ballots will settle election disputes

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Tuesday that “there won’t be any doubts” about election results once the state installs its new $107 million voting system, which includes a paper ballot to check the accuracy of vote counts.

The addition of paper ballots to Georgia’s elections will help increase voters’ confidence — and reduce complaints — about voting results, he said.

Raffensperger praised the new touchscreen-and-paper voting system after Georgia officials awarded a contract Monday for 30,000 new voting machines to Dominion Voting, the nation's second-largest elections company. The voting system will be used by Georgia voters statewide during the March 24 presidential preference primary.

“With the paper ballot, you can hold it in your hands, take a look at it and make sure your selections are right,” Raffensperger said during an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “The people in the campaigns will have to learn to accept the results because there won’t be any doubts or that sense of uncertainty.”

Georgia is replacing its 17-year-old electronic voting machines after the fall's close election for governor. Republican Brian Kemp received nearly 55,000 more votes than Democrat Stacey Abrams, a 1.4 percentage point margin of victory, according to official results.

The election led to lawsuits alleging that Georgia's voting machines at times recorded votes inaccurately, and that votes went missing in the lieutenant governor's race. There's no evidence that Georgia's voting machines were hacked or tampered with, but tech experts say malware could have reached election equipment without being detected.

Under the upcoming election system, voters will pick their candidates on a touchscreen, as they do with the state’s existing voting machines. But the new touchscreens will be connected to printers that create a paper ballot that voters can then review before inserting into an optical scanning machine for tabulation.

Some election integrity advocates criticized the new voting system, saying computer-printed paper ballots remain untrustworthy. They want voters to use paper ballots filled in with a pen.

While printed-out paper ballots will show the text of voters’ choices, they’ll also contain bar codes that are readable by scanning machines. The printed text would only be used during audits or recounts. In addition, many voters might not review their printed ballots before casting them.

“It is almost as untrustworthy as our current voting system,” said Garland Favorito, a voting integrity advocate who founded the group VoterGA. “It’s not a verifiable system because people can’t see what’s in the bar code when they cast their ballots, and it’s the bar code that’s counted — not the text.”

Raffensperger said voters are getting the most secure voting system for their money. Dominion won the contract against two other companies following a competitively bid process.

“Our job isn’t to pick winners and losers. Our job is to make sure we get it right and to count the numbers as they’ve been voted,” Raffensperger said.

Election officials face a tight timeline to get the new voting machines in place for all of the state’s 7 million registered voters before the spring.

Voters in up to six counties will use the system during a trial run in November during local elections before it’s deployed statewide in the spring.

Raffensperger said Georgia election officials and Dominion will work quickly to begin training election workers in August and educating voters about how to use the new machines.