Members of the State Election Board listen as investigator Chris Harvey (right) gives an update into the New Georgia Project voter registration drive. during their meeting at the Capitol, Tuesday, October 7, 2014. KENT D. JOHNSON/KDJOHNSON@AJC.COM

Georgia officials learn how to audit paper ballots in Virginia

Georgia election officials observed audits of paper ballots in Virginia this week to learn how to conduct similar checks for accuracy when the state installs its new voting system next year.

The trip comes as the Secretary of State’s Office is crafting standards for election audits that must be in place by the November 2020 election.

“Georgia has an opportunity to increase voter confidence and strengthen election security by designing effective risk-limiting audits,” said Marian Schneider, president of Verified Voting, a national election integrity organization. “After observing the audit pilots in Virginia this week, Georgia election officials are better equipped to adopt best practices and design robust post-election audits that ensure the outcome reported by tabulation machines is correct.”

Elections Director Chris Harvey and Deputy General Counsel Kevin Rayburn witnessed pilot audits in the city of Manassas, Prince William County and Loudoun County on Monday and Tuesday.

They learned about how Virginia elections officials store and handle ballots, take random samples for audits and examine voters’ selections. Virginia switched to paper ballots statewide in 2017.

Georgia will replace its 17-year-old electronic voting machines next year with a system that produces a printed-out paper ballot.

“As Georgia moves toward our new auditable paper-based system, it is important that we learn from other successful states,” said Secretary of State Brad Raffenspeger. “We’re looking forward to instituting industry best practices in order to give Georgians the most accurate voting experience to ensure voter confidence.”

With Georgia’s new $107 million system, voters will pick their candidates on touchscreens that are connected to printers that create paper ballots. Voters will then be able to review their ballots before inserting them into scanners for tabulation.

Critics of the system say audits of computer-generated paper ballots will be meaningless because many voters won’t check their ballots for accuracy. In a close election, it wouldn’t take many incorrect and unverified ballots to alter the outcome.

Georgia’s voting system encodes votes in bar codes for electronic tabulation, but audits will review the printed text before election results are certified.

Rules for audits, which will be conducted before election results are finalized, will be drafted over the next few months before being published for public comment. The State Election Board will then vote on the rules.

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