Clark County Board of Elections Director Jason Baker talks last month about some the repairs that have had to be made on some of the county’s 12-year-old voting machines. Bill Lackey/Staff

Georgia moves to secure federal grant to improve election system

Georgia election officials are taking steps to secure a $10.3 million federal grant to upgrade the state’s voting system.

Georgia Elections Director Chris Harvey sent a letter to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission on Tuesday requesting the grant to “improve the administration of elections for federal office, including to enhance election technology and make election security improvements.”

The request comes after an announcement this spring from the independent federal agency that it planned to award Georgia the grant.

The grant calls for $515,000 in matching funds from the state. Georgia’s total budget for administering elections in fiscal 2019 is about $5.8 million.

Harvey’s letter outlines how the money could be spent, including the purchase of secure voting machines that produce a “voter-verifiable paper ballot,” cybersecurity centers for all 159 of Georgia’s county election offices and cybersecurity software.

Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is running for governor, appointed the 18-member Secure, Accessible & Fair Elections Commission earlier this year. It’s tasked with advising Georgia’s elected officials as they consider a new voting system.

The system has long been criticized for being outdated and vulnerable to hacks.

In 2017, a private researcher discovered security lapses at Kennesaw State University’s Center for Election Systems that could have exposed more than 6.5 million voter records and other sensitive information.

The state’s current voting machines rely on memory cards that don’t leave a paper trail, meaning there’s no way to verify the accuracy of election results, and they use the Windows 2000 operating system, which is no longer supported by Microsoft.

Georgia is one of only five states to rely entirely on direct-recording electronic voting machines that don’t leave a paper trail.

Cost estimates for replacing the state’s 27,000 voting machines have varied from $35 million to well over $100 million.

The federal funding comes from a $380 million pot of money Congress set aside for local election security efforts in the $1.3 trillion federal spending measure that President Donald Trump signed into law in March.

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