3/7/18 - Atlanta - Secretary of State Brian Kemp, greets supporters as he qualified to run for governor. Qualifying for Georgia's 2018 elections began Monday and runs through Friday. Georgia has races for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and other statewide posts, and every congressional seat nationwide is up for a vote in November. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com
Photo: Bob Andres/bandres@ajc.com

Public review of new Georgia voting system launched

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp is moving forward with efforts to replace the state’s electronic voting machines after legislation to do so failed.

Kemp announced Friday he’s forming a bipartisan commission of lawmakers, political party leaders, election officials and voters to recommend a new voting system for the state.

The group will review options for the state’s voting system, including all hand-marked paper ballots and electronic machines with a voter-verified paper trail.

The commission will evaluate costs, solicit comments from the public and hold meetings across the state before making suggestions for the Georgia General Assembly to consider next year.

“It is time for the state to move forward with phasing out our current voting equipment, which is battle-tested and secure but nearing replacement age,” Kemp said in a statement. “I will spearhead this effort through an open, inclusive and bipartisan commission, inviting all stakeholders to the table.”

Georgia is one of the last five states to rely entirely on electronic voting machines that don’t leave an independent paper backup.

Legislation that would have started the process of buying the state’s next voting system didn’t pass amid disagreements over how to ensure secure elections.

Options for a voting system include pen-and-paper ballots or touchscreen machines that print voters’ choices. Kemp’s office tested the touchscreen system during an election in Conyers in November.

A primarily paper-based system would cost $35 million or more, while a touchscreen-and-paper system could cost well over $100 million.

Voters want an election system that is trustworthy, said Sara Henderson, executive director for Common Cause Georgia. The commission will help ensure Georgia’s elected officials make an informed decision.

“It’s extremely urgent,” Henderson told Channel 2 Action News. “We’ve got to do something now, so I’m glad that Kemp didn’t hesitate and didn’t wait, and he’s pulling the trigger on this.”

Kemp, a Republican candidate for governor, will serve as the co-chairman of the commission along with Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem.

Kemp hasn’t yet released the names of other commission members and when it will meet.

The next secretary of state, who will be elected this fall, will likely be responsible for overseeing the state’s purchase of a voting system. The state Legislature would have to fund it.

“Together, we will put politics aside and put Georgia voters first,” Kemp said.

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